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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759)
The German Arias

Arleen Auger (soprano)
Peter Mirring (violin)
Werner Tast (flute)
Burkhardt Glaetzner (oboe)
Matthias Pfaender (cello)
Dieter Zahn (violone)
Gunter Klier (bassoon)
Walter Hein Bernstein (cembalo)
Recorded 1980
BRILLIANT 99777-27 [52.45]

Brilliant Records


Handel’s ‘German Arias’ were probably written in the late 1720s and like the Brockes Passion, set texts by Heinrich Brockes from a collection called ‘The Terrestrial pleasure in God’. The texts are an illustration of an idealised vision of the world and Handel’s settings require an interpreter who can combine the virtuosity of Handel’s vocal lines with a poetic interpretation for the text itself. These were Handel’s last works in German and remained unpublished during his lifetime. The reasons for their composition remain obscure as most of his London soloists would be unlikely to sing in German and these are chamber pieces rather than large-scale arias. Nonetheless, the music is ravishingly beautiful and the German Arias are nine miniature masterpieces.

Arleen Auger’s voice is perfectly suited to these works. One or two awkward top notes apart, she navigates Handel’s vocal lines easily and is well attuned to the text and to its poetic resonances. These are charming, easy performances which lack the darkness that Dorothea Roschmann brings to them in her recording. This is large-scale chamber music and Auger is lucky in the members of her ensemble, who play the accompaniments sensitively. All artists are responsive and you feel that they are making real chamber music.

Repeated listening made me sometimes feel that the speeds were constantly on the steady side. Though this aids the clarity of Auger’s performance, the instrumentalists’ smooth, modern way with the music means that the arias can plod a little, lacking the sparkle and bounce that original instrument groups bring to the pieces. That said, the steady speeds never compromise Auger’s line.

I still have a lingering admiration for Emma Kirkby’s recording of these works with London Baroque which is regrettably now deleted. Kirkby’s clear, open sounding voice is ideal for this music and her speeds more varied. There is a remarkable disparity between the speeds of the two recordings. For some of the arias, such as the first one ‘Kunft’ger Zeiten eitler Kummer’, there is not really much to choose between the performers though Kirkby is marginally faster. But for others, such as the second ‘Das zitternde Glanzen der spielenden Wellen’, Kirkby is much fleeter without seeming rushed, making Auger’s performance seem too solid. And in the penultimate aria, ‘In den angenehmen Buschen’, Kirkby’s speed is nearly double Auger’s. Whilst Auger is convincing at her speed, as soon as you hear Kirkby’s version you feel you are hearing it sung at the correct speed.

All this means that Kirkby’s performance of the arias is a remarkable 10 minutes shorter than Auger’s. This gives the performers room to intersperse the arias with the Violin Sonata No. 6 (now known not to be by Handel). These arias were probably not written to be consumed in one go. It is only our modern minds and the tyranny of recordings that require complete continuous performances. I feel that this present recording would have been immeasurably enhanced by interspersing the arias with something instrumental.

But this is still an eminently desirable disc. Auger’s artistry is considerable and she is set off beautifully by her responsive players.

Robert Hugill

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