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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Opera Arias
CD1: Arias and Overtures, 1704-26
CD2: Arias and Duets from the era of ‘The Rival Queens’ 1726-28
CD3: Arias and Overtures 1729-41
see end of review for details
Emma Kirkby (soprano)
Catherine Bott (soprano, CD2)
The Brandenburg Consort/Roy Goodman
rec. St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, 25-27 September1995 (CD1); 2-4 January 1997 (CD2); 14-16 June 1999 (CD3).  DDD.
Detailed notes in English, French and German.  Texts in Italian with English translation.
HYPERION CDS44271/3 [3CDs: 75:39 + 76:06 + 70:40]



This set of three CDs combines three Hyperion discs - CDA66860, 66950 and 67128, now reissued at super-bargain price - in total selling for very little more than the price of one CD on their first appearance.  Many collectors will buy this set on pure impulse, taking the quality of the performances on trust from Emma Kirkby, assisted by Catherine Bott on CD2 and throughout by Roy Goodman and the Brandenburg Consort.  Those who have read my earlier reviews of Emma Kirkby reissues and of Roy Goodman’s Handel Opus 3 Concerti will not be surprised to learn that I recommend the present reissue very strongly: delightful music, delightfully sung, well accompanied and recorded.  At its new bargain price, this set is irresistible.
 
The component CDs were all highly praised on their first appearances.  Gerald Fenech, here on Musicweb in June 2000, thought CDA67128 an excellent follow-up to an immensely satisfying Volume I.  The only significant criticism which I have seen is that the orchestral accompaniment to the first CD is not always ideal and that the recording of the orchestra is too resonant.  The same reviewer, however, who criticised the accompaniment and hoped that the orchestra would move out of the swimming bath described the accompaniment to CD2 as prompt and stylish and had no adverse comments on the recording – made by the same producer in the same venue – indeed, he made it one of his CDs of the year.
 
I simply do not hear the ‘swimming-bath’ acoustic: St Jude-on-the-Hill has, in fact, been one of Hyperion’s favourite and most successful locations over the years.  Maybe the clarity of Kirkby’s voice made the orchestral sound seem subjectively less precise.  As for the rough edges to the accompaniment, we seem to have forgotten how far period orchestras have come in such a short time: little more than thirty years ago I remember despairing of the wind playing on an LP of Handel’s Water Music by early-music performers who have since gone on to great things.  In any case, if we could be magically transported back to hear the premières of these operas, the playing would probably have far more rough edges than the few moments of imprecision on these CDs. 
 
The booklet rightly highlights the playing of individual members of the Consort who duet with Emma Kirkby in various arias – most notably the oboist Katharina Arfken and Robert Farley on trumpet on CDs 1 and 3.
 
Another reviewer thought the performances fluent and stylish but a little too decorous, slightly lacking in dramatic extravagance.  Again, I think the purity of Kirkby’s voice, where drama is often more implicit than explicit, sometimes lends itself to the misconception that she is not involved in the rôle.  I have dealt with this matter in my recent review of the Eloquence reissue of her Elizabethan Songbook.
 
There can be no question of lack of dramatic involvement on the second CD, where she and Catherine Bott perform some of the arias associated with the two rival sopranos of Handel’s middle period, 1726-8, Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni.  Ironically, in view of the enmity which existed between these ‘rival queens’, Emma Kirkby enjoys a most productive relationship with fellow soprano Catherine Bott.  Each takes the rôle of one ‘queen’ and the two voices provide a very effective contrast with each other. 
 
This second CD is probably the most attractive of the three.  The first covers the period of the early operas up to 1726, of which the best-known is Giulio Cesare, here represented by V’adoro, pupille, sung by Cleopatra as she attempts to seduce Cæsar to her cause.  Those who find some lack of drama in Kirkby’s voice would probably prefer a more sensuous tone here but the sheer beauty of the singing and the sensitivity of the accompaniment are winners in themselves.
 
The third CD covers the final period, after 1729, nearly all the rôles here being written with Anna Maria Strada in mind, a time when Handel was writing some of his finest operatic music, albeit for a public which was turning away from him.  Once again the range is wide and Emma Kirkby encompasses all these rôles very successfully, from the hauntingly lyrical to the most impassioned.  If I pick out the aria from Alcina, that is probably because that work has a strong claim to be Handel’s operatic masterpiece.  I am particularly sorry that no space could be found for anything from Orlando, another late-period work which I think runs Alcina a pretty close second.
 
The booklet is excellent – full of informative detail in Hyperion’s best manner.  English readers will find the Italian texts and English translations embedded in the section of the notes devoted to the relevant opera.  French and German readers get the detailed notes but have to find the Italian texts in the English commentary and there is no French or German translation.  Those seeking scores of these pieces will find some of them available online, for example the whole of Act III of Alcina – indeed, the whole of Alcina – at this site.
 
One slight criticism: the CD case –  the normal 3- or 4-CD size case – tended not to close firmly enough to prevent its falling open too easily.  I missed the delightful cover pictures of the originals: the photograph of Emma Kirkby looking uncharacteristically haughty on the rear cover is no substitute, but the new front cover depicting Rinaldo and Armida is an excellent choice, the latter not only depicted in Rinaldo (CD1, track 4) but also doubling as the archetypal femme fatale of Ariosto’s and Tasso’s epics such as Alcina (CD3, track 9.)
 
This 3-CD set represents the best of the reissues of Emma Kirkby which I have recently reviewed; readers of those other reviews will recognise that as praise indeed.  Go out and buy it, along with Hyperion’s other recent Kirkby/Goodman bargain reissue, Vivaldi Opera Arias and Sinfonias, on Helios CDH55279.  Fans of Angela Hewitt’s Bach benefit from a comparable Hyperion bargain: both books of the Well-tempered Klavier reissued on CDS44291/4.
 
If this has seemed shorter than my usual reviews, it is because I have so few reservations.  I note that Gerald Fenech’s review is even more the soul of brevity, presumably for the same reason.  To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, of writing many reviews there is no end and much study is a weariness of the flesh when there is such beautiful music to listen to.  Buy it and listen to it – that is better than any mere words.
 
I only hope that Hyperion’s generosity in making such fine performances available at so reasonable a price does not distract attention from their continuing full-price issues. However with recordings of the quality of Marc-André Hamelin’s version of the Alkan Piano Concerto this month that is hardly likely to happen.
 
Brian Wilson

Track listing
CD1
Second Overture to Almira in G minor HWV1 (1704) [4:26]
‘Vedrai s’a tuo dispetto’ (Almira Act III) [4:39]
‘Perché viva il caro sposo’ (Rodrigo HWV3, Act III) (1707) [6:06]
‘Vo’ far guerra’ (Rinaldo HWV7Act II) (1711) [5:11]
Overture to Silla HWV10 91713) [4:38+2:02]
‘Ah! Spietato’ (Amadigi di Gaula, Act I) (1715) [6:05]
‘Desterò dall’ empia Dite’ (Amadigi di Gaula HWV11 Act II) [5:30]
‘V’ adoro, pupille’ (Giulio Cesare in Egitto HWV17, Act II) (1723-4) [5:21]
Overture to Tamerlano HWV18 (1723-4) [2:50+1:47+8:24]
‘Cor di padre’ (Tamerlano, Act III) [8:24]
‘Ombre, piante’ (Rodelinda HWV19, Act I) (1724-5) [5:39]
Overture to Scipione HWV20 [3:52+2:00]
March (Scipione, Act I) (1726) [1:11]
‘Scoglio d’ immota fronte’ (Scipione, Act II) [5:06]  
CD2
Overture to Alessandro  HWV21 (1726) [5:04]
Sinfonia Act 1 (Alessandro) [2:17]
‘Che vidi? Che mirai!’ (Alessandro : Duet) [1:38]
‘No, più soffrir non voglio’ (Alessandro) [3:34]
‘Placa l’alma’ (Alessandro: Duet) [2:34]
‘Solitudine amate’ (Alessandro) [2:19]
‘Aure, fonti’ (Alessandro) [3:32]
‘Pur troppo veggio’ (Alessandro) [0:21]
‘Che tirannia d’amor!’ (Alessandro) [6:51]
‘Svanisci oh reo timore’ (Alessandro) [0:26]
‘Dica il falso’ (Alessandro) [4:31]
‘Il ritratto d’Admeto’ (Admeto, re di Tessaglia  HWV22: Duet) (1727) [2:11]
‘La sorte mia vacilla’ (Admeto, re di Tessaglia) [3:18]
‘Quest’è dunque la fede’ (Admeto, re di Tessaglia) [0:29]
‘Vedrò fra poco’ (Admeto, re di Tessaglia) [4:12]
‘Morte vieni’ (Riccardo primo, re d’Inghilterra HWV23) (1727) [2:51]
‘A me nel mio rossore’ (Riccardo primo, re d’Inghilterra: Duet) [1:49]
‘Quando non vede’ (Riccardo primo, re d’Inghilterra) [5:23]
‘A costei, che dirò?’ (Siroe, re di Persia HWV24) (Duet) (1728) [2:20]
‘L’aura non sempre’ (Siroe, re di Persia) [3:35]
‘Si diversi sembiante’ (Siroe, re di Persia) [0:14]
‘Non vi piacque, ingiusti dei’ (Siroe, re di Persia) [5:35]
‘E dove, e dove mai’ (Tolomeo, re di Egitto HWV25) (1728-9) [0:19]
‘Fonti amiche’ (Tolomeo, re di Egitto) [6:15]
‘Ti pentirai, crudel’ (Tolomeo, re di Egitto) [3:09]
CD3
Overture to Lotario HWV26 (1729) [5:38]
‘Scherza in mar’ (Lotario) [5:27]
‘Io ti levo’ (Partenope HWV27Act I) (1730) [6:15]
‘Caro padre’ (Ezio HWV29 Act I) (1732) [5:17]
‘Dite pace’ (Sosarme, re di Media HWV30 Act I) [5:32]
‘Vorrei, né pur saprei’ (Sosarme, re di Media Act III) [3:14]
Atalanta HWV35 Overture [5:41]
‘Son qual stanco’ (Arianna in Creta HWV32 Act II) (1734) [8:13]
‘Ah! Ruggiero’ (Alcina HWV34,Act III) (1735) [7:23]
‘Chi t’intende?’ (Berenice, regina d’Egitto HWV38 Act III) (1736) [8:38]
Overture to Deidamia HWV42 [3:52]
‘M’hai resa infelice’ (Deidamia) [3:55]



 


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