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Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685–1759)
Fammi combattere mostri e tifei; Ah Sigie larve (Orlando);
Sta nell’Ircana (Alcina)
Splenda l’alba in oriente
Johan Adolf HASSE (1699–1783)
Ti lascio in ceppi avvinto; Se mia speranza sola; Vaghi rai, pupille amate (Arminio)
La scusa
Vivica Genaux (soprano)
Les Violons du Roy/Bernard Labadie
rec. Chapelle du Grand Seminaire, Montreal, Canada, 20-22, 24-26 March 2005
VIRGIN CLASSICS 7243-5-45737 2 9 [72.03] 


Throughout his operatic career, Handel had a less than reverential attitude to singers. That he could write splendid roles for them is indicated by the way many leading singers sang for him. But the numerous anecdotes about Handel rounding on singers who refused to sing the music written for them are indications of the independence of his attitude, even if we must take the details of these stories with a pinch of salt. Castrato Senesino famously refused to sing Verdi prati because it was not elaborate enough, though when he did actually sing it in the opera Alcina it went on to be a great success. Senesino’s last work for Handel was the title role in the opera Orlando. Though politics and in-fighting had much to do with Senesino’s decision to leave Handel, the rather unique nature of the role of Orlando must have contributed.

Initially Orlando is portrayed as a knight, but the warring claims of love and war - and the fact that he can’t get the beloved he wants - send him mad. The result is a striking mad scene. Well, striking to us; it was probably at the very edge of what Senesino considered acceptable and it is doubtful if he was in complete sympathy with Handel’s aims. 

This issue of virtuosity and writing showy roles for singers is brought to the forefront on this new disc of Baroque arias from Vivica Genaux. She sings a pair from Orlando along with other Handel arias. But then contrasts them with music by his contemporary Hasse, who wrote music in the virtuosic style beloved of singers. 

Genaux sings Orlando’s showy aria Fammi combattere mostri e tifei with a creamy tone and good fioriture. Her lively interpretation is confident and brilliant, suiting the music, but I did rather find her ornamentation in the da capo arias over-elaborate. In Orlando’s mad scene she adds to these virtues, a powerful dramatic sense in the recitative and vivid projection of the kaleidoscope of emotions which Orlando is going through.

Sta nell’Ircana pietrosa tana from Alcina is another display aria. Handel sets the rather conventional simile text with brilliant music that here shows Genaux off to her best: not only the brilliance of her voice, but the gripping excitement of her performance. It is a shame that she does not also include Verdi prati to show us another aria that Senesino found less than conventional. 

Genaux completes the Handel group with his cantata Splenda l’alba in oriente. This consists of a pair of arias separated by a recitative, extols the power of virtue and implores Cecilia to inspire the merits of virtue in the listeners. It is a late cantata, written in London in 1711/12, though what we have is evidently just a fragment of the whole. It is a charming piece and Genaux delivers it beautifully, making me wish that she had included more of this repertoire on the disc. 

In all the Handel arias, though, Genaux displays the same tendency to over-elaboration in the ornamentation, but she does it so brilliantly that you can’t get too worked up over it. 

She follows the Handel cantata with a group of arias from Hasse’s opera  Arminio and his cantata La scusa. Hasse writes much more in the galant style than Handel; his music is always gracious and elegant. The vocal lines are always vocally elaborate, allowing the singer to display their virtuoso technique. Even the slower aria Vaghi rai, pupille amate has a decorative vocal line. In vocal terms, Genaux is superb giving all these arias with a lovely sense of line, creamy tone and fluid virtuosity. But I never really get much sense of the emotion behind the roulades, it seems that for Hasse and his singers’ virtuosity is everything.

Hasse wrote the arias whilst he was kapellmeister to the Elector of Saxony; whilst there he created an enviable operatic ensemble which included some of the finest singers of his day. His style was sympathetic to the singer’s demands. It helped, of course, that Hasse was married to a singer who had been one of Handel’s prima donnas.

Genaux is well supported by Les Violons du Roy under Bernard Labadie. The group provides a crisp, attractively bouncy accompaniment.

This disc is a magnificent showcase for the talents of Vivica Genaux. By combining the arias of Hasse and Handel she shows us that whilst Hasse’s virtuoso requirements hold no fears for her, she is also comfortable with Handel’s more sophisticated musical demands.

I could imagine a slightly more imaginatively programmed version of this disc, but on its own terms it provides some brilliant singing from a superb singer. What more could one ask for.

Robert Hugill 








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