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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Joan Records

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Italian Cantatas

Delirio amoroso HWV 99
Crudel tiranno Amor HWV 97
Agrippina condotta a morire HWV 110
Mária Zadori (soprano); Concerto Armonico/Artistic Directors Péter Szüts, Miklós Spányi [76.34]
Notte placida e cheta HWV 142
Ero e Leandro HWV 150
Il duello amoroso HWV 82
Mária Zádori (soprano); Ralf Popken (countertenor); Capella Savaria/Pál Németh [60.17]
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 99958 [2 CDs: 136.51]

Handel spent more than three years in Italy between 1706 and 1710, where he perfected his technique in setting Italian words to music. Throughout his creative life he remained strongly attached to the Italian Baroque style, much admired and imitated in 18th Century Europe, and was acquainted with some of its finest singers, notably the castrato Senesino and soprano Curzoni. This two-CD set contains six of the 25 solo and duo secular cantatas Handel wrote for performance in the great houses of the aristocracy and church hierarchy where eminent singers and instrumentalists were doubtless available. Though similar to the 17th century cantatas of Carissimi, Alessandro Scarlatti, Stradella and others the sound is distinctively Handelian and the themes are concerned mainly with various aspects of romantic love.

This is an attractive set, with excellent singers and responsive instrumentalists. However the nettle must be grasped: these cantatas almost certainly do not sound as they did when first heard, with Corelli playing the violin and conducting. Apart from anything else, his was almost certainly a smaller ensemble. Thus if the present-day penchant for ‘historically informed’ performance on original instruments is more than a passing fad or fashion (which I do not believe to be so) we are left in something of a quandary as to the authenticity of these performances. The 17th and 18th century secular cantata, though smaller in scale, was essentially what we might call ‘music theatre’. While the opening instrumental tutti of Delirio amoroso strikes the required theatrical note, here it sounds more like English 19th century opera than Italian chamber music. Instruments have an important role throughout, but there are times when both Concerto Armonico and Capella Savaria swamp what the singers are trying to express, which is mainly tender, deeply-felt emotion.

Despite these reservations there is much to admire. Mária Zadori and the countertenor Ralf Popken have clearly immersed themselves in the Italian ritornello style, with its delicacy of ornamentation and expressive nuances. They almost (but not quite) rescue these discs from becoming an exercise in antique reproduction. My suggestion for auditioning this set would be to listen to CD 2 first, since it contains the most interesting cantatas, and the singing is of the highest quality throughout. Unusually for Brilliant Classics it comes with a highly informative 20pp booklet.

Roy Brewer


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