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George Frideric HANDEL (1685 – 1759)
Salve Regina; O quails de caelo sonus; Trio Sonata in G minor; Caelestis dum spirat aura; Laudate pueri
Emma Kirkby (soprano)
London Baroque/Charles Medlam (director)
BIS CD-106501 [67.28]



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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 Emma Kirkby.

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 more puzzling.

‘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.

Robert Hugill


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