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Universal (Austria)

George Frideric HANDEL (1685–1759)
Vedo il ciel; Piangete; Naufragando (La Resurrezione)
Overture (Hercules)
Oh Mirror; Return; With might endued/The Holy One of Israel (Samson)
Overture (Jephta)
He was despised; O thou that tellest; But who may abide (Messiah)
Lydia Vierlinger (alto)
Wiener Motettenchor
Capella Leopoldina/Jörg Zwicker
rec. April 2004, Hofmusikkapelle, Vienna. DDD
UNIVERSAL CD 476 300 0 [60.04]

Austrian contralto Lydia Vierlinger was new to me but on the showing of this disc of Handel arias she is certainly a name to watch. Not that choosing to sing Handel is an easy option. The arias from his English oratorios might be well known and, given the right sort of voice and technique, will show off a singer well, but they contain many traps for the unwary.

Vierlinger falls into few of these traps and throughout the disc displays a warm, contralto voice, one that seems to be entirely at home in the lowish tessitura of these pieces. She does not have the really dark sort of voice, as possessed by someone like Nathalie Stutzman, instead Vierlinger has a lovely instrument which is even-toned across the whole range.
Her technique is such that she preserves the vocal line admirably whilst still being rather expressive. There were moments when I would have wished for a little more temperament. But given the fine musicality of such arias as He was despised from Messiah, this seems a little churlish. Characterisation is a little generalised, but this is often a problem on recital records. I will have to reserve final judgement until I have heard her in a complete recording of a dramatic work.
Vierlinger studied in the USA and in London as well as in her native Austria. Since 2004 she has taught at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. Her background includes a great deal of choral experience, so she knows this sort of oratorio repertoire from the inside out. Her experience extends, though, through to romantic music and even contemporary pieces. Her previous discs have included a recital of Brahms duets with the soprano Doerthe Maria Sandman and the world premiere recording of Telemann’s Pastorelle en Musique.
The programme here consists of groups of arias from La Resurrezione, Samson and Messiah, punctuated by the overtures to Hercules and Messiah. I’m not sure why it was decided to concentrate on just three works, but Vierlinger and her conductor, Jörg Zwicker, have produced a sequence which is far more balanced than it at first looks. The arias have been carefully chosen to vary in mood and character though, as I have said, I could have wished that Vierlinger emphasised these variations a little more. It says much for Vierlinger’s performances that there were occasions when I wished that the performers had continued with the work in question rather than jumping to the next excerpt - this was particularly true of the Messiah excerpts.
Da Capo repeats are discreetly ornamented, though Vierlinger never goes over the top. In a world where it is becoming common for ornamentation to be over-done, this is very welcome, though some people might wish that her ornaments were a little more elaborate.
Zwicker and the Capella Leopoldina are an admirable support to Vierlinger, producing wonderfully lively, crisp accompaniments that positively dance along in the more up-tempo numbers. It says much for their expressiveness that the two overtures were a delight in their own right rather being tedious interludes to be endured. The Wiener Motettenchor give fine choral support where required, so much so that I thought it a shame that they did no warrant a choral movement of their own.
But before I finish, I must mention one trap into which Vierlinger does fall, that of language. Her accounts of the Italian arias from La Resurrezione are entirely admirable but things are less secure when it comes to the English arias. Quite frankly Vierlinger’s English just is not good enough; this might not bother some people but it does me. No matter how musical the singer, I just cannot imagine listening repeatedly to these accounts of Handel’s English arias sung in English with a marked Austrian accent. I would have preferred them recorded in German. This is a shame because there is so much to enjoy in Vierlinger’s musical performances.
I can recommend this disc for its musicality and feel for Handel’s music, but must warn off those for whom good English is a sine qua non of Handel performance.
Robert Hugill


Universal (Austria)



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