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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Italian Duets
Tanti strali al sen mi scocchi (1709-11) [9:07]
A mirarvi io son intento (1709-11) [9:12]
Troppo cruda, troppo fiera (1709-11) [5:52]
Se tu non lasci amore (1711) [7:42]
Conservate, raddoppiate (1709-11)[4:13]
Langue, geme, sospira e si lagna (?1711) [5:27]
Nò, di voi non vo’ fidarmi  (1741) [7:59]
Sono liete, fortunate (1710) [4:35]
Fronda leggiera e mobile (1744)  [6:20]
Gillian Fisher (soprano); James Bowman (counter-tenor), The King’s Consort: Jane Coe (cello); David Miller (archlute); Robert King (harpsichord, chamber organ)
rec. 1-3 April, 1990, location not given. DDD

Originally issued as Hyperion CDA66440, this remains a thoroughly enjoyable – and quite substantial – representation of one of the areas of Handel’s work which has received relatively little attention. Of the ten duets which Handel wrote for soprano and alto, nine are here recorded – it is a shame that we don’t have ‘Beato in ver’ to complete the set.
The texts of these duets are generally pretty slight – amorous, vaguely pastoral and soaked in the routine poetic clichés of the day – and only a couple can be attributed to specific poets. Handel’s response, however, is far more than merely routine. Melodically inventive, often quite adventurous in terms both of harmony and rhythm, this is sophisticated, if not especially profound, music. There appears to be very little, stylistically speaking, that distinguishes the works from the end of the first decade of the Eighteenth Century from those written in the 1740s.
There is much to relish in piece after piece. The gorgeously anguished harmonic suspensions in the opening movement of ‘Langue, geme, sospira e si lagna’, for example; or the dancing rhythms of the first part of ‘Tanti strali al sen mi scocchi’. ‘Conservate, raddoppiate’ is a miniature masterpiece of fluid elegance and the closing movement of ‘Tanti strali’ is a dazzling fugue. Those familiar with Handel’s working methods, will not be surprised to learn that these duets contain a good deal of music which the great man recycled elsewhere – to cite only a few examples, that fugue from ‘Tanti strali’ reappears in Solomon (“Take him all”); the melody which opens ‘A mirarvi io son intento’ was reused in the Utrecht Jubilate (“Be ye sure that the Lord is God”) before turning up again in the Chandos Jubilate; materials from the final movement of ‘Sono liete, fortunate’ resurfaced in the overture to Judas Maccabaeus.
Gillian Fisher and James Bowman give entirely sympathetic performances, engaged and intelligent, their voices often beautifully interwoven above the continuo work of Coe, Miller and King, which is generally sparkling, generally well judged and frequently poignantly expressive in the slower movements. Bowman was in particularly good voice at this time, especially at the higher end of his register.
Written for performance at private musical evenings, these pieces have the expressiveness of some of Handel’s best operatic writing combined with an intimacy of scale owed to the environments and occasions for which they were written. The combination makes for some exquisite music of high cultivation. Only the final item in the programme, ‘Fronda leggiera e mobile’ doesn’t quite come off, some of the phrasing being rather too fragmentary, the lines not allowed to flow in quite the way that one might wish. But this is a small reservation.
Top-class performances of some sophisticated morceaux by Handel, making for an hour of quite delightful listening.
Glyn Pursglove



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