Italian cantatas were written for chamber performance in the
homes of the various Italian noblemen who became his patrons.
Direct information about the cantatas is limited and we need
to examine a variety of sources to get some idea of the timing
of their first performances. The bills for having the music
copied provide one source of information, but these copies might
reflect a patron’s desire to possess the music rather than being
a record of the first performance. A further source of information
is the paper on which the autograph manuscripts are written
as this varied from city to city as Handel made his peregrination
been invited to visit Florence he first stopped off in Venice,
where the Venetian style of opera caught his attention. He then
moved on to Florence and then to Rome. It is from this first
period (1706 – 1707) that the works on this disc come. From
May to October 1707 Handel was employed by Cardinal Ruspoli
and many of the cantatas that he wrote were designed to be performed
at the meetings of the Arcadina Academy in the Palazzo Bonelli.
At this Academy the great men would meet, each taking a pastoral
pseudonym. Many of the texts that Handel set reflect this pseudo-pastoral
the cantatas on this disc, Figlio d’alte speranze (or
Abdolonymous) is probably the first and seems to have been written
whilst Handel was in Florence or Venice. The cantata's alternative
name arose because it describes the fortunes of King Abdolonymous.
Un’alma innamorata and Detro l’orme fuggaci (or
Armida abbandonata) were both written in June 1707 for Cardinal
Ruspoli. Un’alma innamorata was probably first performed
at Viganello, Ruspoli's country estate and Detro l’orme fuggaci
at Palazzo Bonelli. Detro l’orme fuggaci is also
known as Armida abbandonata because in it, the despairing
sorceress Armida hurls threats at her departing lover, Rinaldo,
but finds her love leaves her powerless to hurt him.
psalm setting, Laudate Pueri, dates from the same period
as the cantatas. It was completed in July 1707 for Carlo Colonna
and premiered on 16 July for the feast of Our Lady of Mount
works were written for the great virtuosi of the day, singers
who made names for themselves in the opera house. These would
have been a mixture of men and women, castrati and sopranos.
The Italian soprano Magherita Durastantini sang many of Handel’s
cantatas during his Italian period. Handel himself played the
harpsichord and the instrumental parts would be taken by the
patron’s own musicians.
problem with these works is that, being written for great voices,
they require considerable vocal resources to perform them. And
it is not enough being able to simply sing the notes, you must
then be able to use them to create a character. Each of the
cantatas is a short scene, a quasi-operatic scena in miniature.
In fact, Handel used much of the music again when he came to
write his Italian operas in London.
On this disc,
the soprano part is taken by Veronika Winter, a German soprano
who has studied under Barbara Schlick and Charles Brett. Her
voice is of the clear, pure soprano type, think Emma Kirkby.
Though Winter is no Kirkby clone, their voices and mannerisms
have something in common. One of Winter’s strengths is her ability
to float high vocal lines with apparent ease, clarity of tone
and a fine line. This clarity of tone, strength of vocal line
and her gloriously free top are some of the principal reasons
for listening to this disc.
we turn to the first cantata, Un’alma innamorata then
the first aria, Quel povero core starts to reveal Winter’s
strengths and her weaknesses. The phrasing is lovely and her
general approach is affecting but the passage-work is a trifle
smudged. The second aria, Io god, riod e spero is a lively
piece and you can’t help feeling that Winter is being a little
too careful. I wanted the vocal line projected with more vividness
and again I worried about the passage-work. These concerns continued
in the final aria.
opening aria of Ah Crudele shows off her strengths, as
she floats some superb long lines. But the preceding accompagnato
is a little undramatic and this is repeated in the central accompagnato
and aria. Winter’s performances are musical but she did not
seem to be inclined to take charge of this wonderfully powerful
music. The closing aria, In tanti affani miei shows the
singer at her best. The piece is a simple siciliana and Winter
projects the vocal lovely line with charm and creates a ravishing
remaining two items on the disc, the chamber cantata Figlio
d’alte speranza and the Psalm setting Laudate
pueri both exhibit the same mix of strengths and weaknesses
as the first two pieces. Laudate pueri contains one
curiosity, the Qui habitare facet movement has a melodic
phrase which would re-surface many years later in Had I but
Jubal’s lyre from Joshua.
the Italian chamber cantatas, Winter does use the text to create
a certain amount of drama, though I could have wished for a
lot more. But I felt that in Laudate pueri she could
have used the Latin text more.
me, there are just too many occasions when Winter seems to be
taking care. Her general performance lacks vividness and bravura
and no amount of ravishing tone and beautifully floated vocal
lines will compensate me for this. Add to that the rather smudged
quality of her passage-work and I honestly cannot see me returning
to these recordings very often. I realise that I am being a
little harsh, and others may think differently and find that
the fine tone quality of Winter’s voice is enough to recommend
is ably supported by Hermann Max and Das Kleine Konzert. These
chamber cantatas are rarely about instrumental bravura, but
Handel does use occasional solo instrumental lines. Max and
his group accompany admirably, providing crisp, lively instrumental
tone and take advantage of whatever opportunities Handel gives
many ways this is an interesting disc, well programmed and performed
with a soloist possessed of a lovely voice. But somehow, for
me Veronika Winter's rather understated performances of the
cantatas lacks the necessary bravura and drama.