This disc was originally
recorded in 1999, issued in 2001 and
re-issued in 2003. This latter reissue
is in eco-friendly cardboard packaging,
which is rather neatly designed but
lacking in liner notes – a frustrating
experience for those who might come
upon these underrated works for the
first time. [We understand
from Select that there is a booklet
with this disc which may have been missing
in the review copy]
Handel’s works from
his Italian period, particularly the
cantatas written for private performances
in the homes of his patrons, have a
brilliance that makes the enthusiasm
of his Roman patrons entirely understandable.
These were people who could afford the
best, so these works were written for
some of the finest singers of the day.
This makes performance today rather
tricky. For this disc, BIS had the felicitous
idea of calling upon the talents of
Handel’s ‘Salve Regina’
was written in 1707 or thereabouts,
for a religious Festival (possibly Trinity
Sunday) during Handel’s Roman period.
It may have been performed in Marchese
Ruspoli’s private chapel. Ruspoli was
one of Handel’s Roman patrons. Similarly,
‘O qualis de caelo sonus’ dates from
the same year and may also have been
performed in similar circumstances.
These are real display
pieces and Kirkby sings the florid lines
with enviable ease. With little vibrato
behind which to hide these could-be-cruel
pieces, but Kirkby’s technique is rock
solid and she has a fine command of
Handel’s bravura. If I had any complaint
it is that I would have liked a little
more warmth in the voice, but faced
with such virtuosity this seems rather
an unworthy thought.
The Trio sonata in
G minor possibly dates from around 1719.
The Trio Sonatas are unaccountably neglected
and London Baroque give a fine performance
which makes the work’s neglect all the
‘Caelestis dum spirat
aura’ dates again from 1707 and was
written for the Feast of St. Anthony
of Padua and probably received its first
performance in Ruspoli’s private chapel.
A serene work in which the singer contemplates
St. Anthony’s apotheosis, it shows Kirkby
at her effortlessly simple best. The
work concludes with a joyful Alleluia.
The final work on the
disc is the most substantial ‘Laudate
Pueri’. This F major setting of Psalm
112 is one of the oldest Handel manuscripts
that we possess, possibly dating from
1706 when he was still in Germany. It
is a brilliant piece, difficult to bring
off. But Kirkby and London Baroque give
a superb performance that makes one
wish that all Handel music making could
be of this order.