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Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Il Trionfo del tempo e del disinganno (1707)
Natalie Dessay (soprano) – Bellezza
Ann Hallenberg (mezzo) - Piacere
Sonia Prina (alto) - Disinganno
Pavol Breslik (tenor) - Tempo
Le Concert d’Astrée/Emmanuelle Haim (harpsichord, organ, direction)
rec. IRCAM, Paris, March 2004, January 2006
VIRGIN CLASSICS 3634282 [72:20 + 73:12]

Recordings of Il Trionfo del tempo e del disinganno, in whichever edition, are rather sparse. This performance of the 1707 version of the oratorio comes with a heavyweight cast and ensemble, presided over by Emmanuelle Haim, and it provides some dramatic and exuberant music-making.
The cast is eye-catching indeed. Ann Hallenberg has a rapier mezzo of real distinction in this repertoire. Her trill is good if not quite electric in velocity and though there’s a touch spread at the topmost reach of the tessitura the dramatic implications are frequently memorable. The touch of floridity she brings to, say, Fosco genio is entirely warranted dramatically.
Natalie Dessay takes a major share vocally as Bellezza. Her vertiginous Una schiera di piaceri is excellently dispatched, as are the rather fruity decorations. Un Pensiero nemico di pace however sounds too fast; she is just able to project the lines musically but the breathless tempo robs the aria of due significance and this is by no means the only occasion when Haim pushes her singers to something beyond acceptable speeds. I would certainly draw the reader’s attention to the B section of Crede l’uom ch’egli riposi, which is really outrageously fast and deliberately breached from the surrounding calm, lyric melody like a phantasmagoria. That may have indeed been the intended effect but it sounds to me highly dubious. Sonia Prina is a first class Disinganno taking her recitatives with a conspicuously good sense of pacing and all her arias with technical brilliance and tonal allure.
As Tempo the cast is enriched by the presence of Pavol Breslik. That said his First Part standout aria Urne voi sounds very peculiar in this performance. The stabbing accents that Haim brings to bear and the sense of this more as a dramatic recitative cum aria all collude in making this sound histrionic. I should stress that the fault, if it be such, resides not in the singing as such, more in the melodrama that impels it. Breslik also bears a considerable brunt in the punishing demands placed upon him by Haim in È ben folle. He’s such an agile singer that directors and conductors presumably try to encourage him to push tempi but this one is exaggerated.
Instrumentally there are some fine contributions. The oboe principal is particularly distinguished both tonally and in terms of floating lyric phrasing. The solo violinist and leader Stephanie-Marie Degand is sensitive and her intonation is conspicuously secure. Haim is a busy and colouristic presence. Her “organ concerto” in Part One is entertaining though I do find the very busy harpsichord continuo in Bellezza’s aria Venga il Tempo rather distracting. There are some rather extreme rubati here in this aria as well that may well strike the unsympathetic listener as mannered.
Then there is the question of ornamentation. In something like Disinganno’s aria Crede l’uom ch’egli riposi it is arguably overdone; its da capo weight can overbalance the arias and some of the ornaments do draw far too much attention to themselves, notwithstanding Prina’s superb singing; discreet ornamentation is not always in evidence in this recording. Something of the same happens in Part Two’s Tu giurasti di mai non lasciarmi where once more the ear is drawn too predictably to the excessive ornamentation.
Still these points, whilst critical, are meant to show that not all solutions will meet with universal praise. Other listeners will reach diametrically opposed conclusions to my own and will find much of this enriching, enlivening, exciting and intensely dramatic. And it’s certainly the case that dramatic tension is screwed up for the last dozen recitatives, arias and one duet. The close of the oratorio is indeed a triumph and the great merits of much of the performance come into close focus here.
A more clement and less intoxicatingly theatrical performance can be heard on Naïve with Deborah York, Gemma Bertagnolli, Sara Mingardo, Nicholas Sears and the Concerto Italiano under Rinaldo Alessandrini. Things are never so extreme here and tempi are, some will suggest, more considered and grateful.
Jonathan Woolf


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