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George Frideric HANDEL (1685–1759)
Neun deutsche Arien:-
Die ihr aus dunklen Grüften (HWV 208) [05:41]
In den angenehmen Büschen (HWV 209) [03:30]
Sonata for oboe and bc in F (HWV 363a) [08:02]
Künft'ger Zeiten eitler Kummer (HWV 202) [06:31]
Süßer Stille, sanfte Quelle (HWV 205) [05:34]
Sonata for oboe and bc in B flat (HWV 357) [07:03]
Singe, Seele, Gott zum Preise (HWV 206) [04:15]
Süßer Blumen Ambraflocken (HWV 204) [07:17]
Das zitternde Glänzen der spielenden Wellen (HWV 203) [04:37]
Sonata for oboe and bc in c minor (HWV 366) [06:26]
Flammende Rose, Zierde der Erden (HWV 210) [05:20]
Meine Seele hört im Sehen (HWV 207) [05:29]
Carolyn Sampson (soprano)
The King's Consort (Alexandra Bellamy (oboe); Stéphanie-Marie Degand (violin); Jonathan Cohen (cello); Lynda Sayce (theorbo); Robert King (harpsichord, organ)/Robert King
rec. October 2006, The Menuhin Hall, Stoke d'Abernon, Surrey, UK. DDD
HYPERION CDA67627 [70:33]

 


The German Arias are amongst the least frequently performed and recorded works by Handel. I have been attending early music concerts for over thirty years now, and I can't remember having ever heard one aria from this set. Even so there are several recordings in the catalogue - if I'm not mistaken this is the fifth complete recording - but they are not often played on radio programmes. For some reason they seem to hold little appeal to the public at large. They are, however, quite interesting in that they shed light on an aspect of Handel's career which has been overshadowed by his years in Italy and England. They show that he never lost contact with his roots; with Germany. They were not composed, as one may expect, before he travelled to Italy, but in the 1720s, when he was already an established composer in England.

The texts were written by Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747), a then famous poet in Germany. He is known first and foremost as the author of the oratorio libretto 'Der für die Sünden der Welt gemarterte und sterbende Jesus'. This was set to music by a number of German composers, like Telemann, Mattheson, Stölzel, Keiser and Fasch. Bach used parts of it in his St John Passion. Among the composers setting this text to music was Handel: it seems he composed his 'Brockes-Passion' in 1716 and sent it to Hamburg to be performed. In 1721 Brockes published a collection of poems under the title 'Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott', in which the texts were divided into recitatives, arias and duets, which show that he wanted them to be set to music. An extended edition was printed in 1724, and this is the edition Handel must have used, as one of his arias, 'Künft'ger Zeiten eitler Kummer', was not in the first edition. 

The content reflects the spirit of the time, as it praises God's presence in nature. A couple of lines from some of these poems make that very clear. 'Singe, Seele, Gott zum Preise', for instance, begins thus: "Sing, my soul, in praise of God, who in so wise a manner makes all the world so beautiful". And 'Meine Seele hört im Sehen' says: "My soul hears, through seeing, how all things rejoice and laugh to magnify the Creator". It is a mistake to label these thoughts as 'pantheism', as I read somewhere. The idea that nature reflects God's greatness is firmly rooted in the Bible. At the same time it is true that Brockes was a representative of the German Enlightenment, one of whose features was a strong interest in nature in general and in nature as a manifestation of God's presence in particular. Many compositions from around this time are evidence of that. Another feature is the moralistic character which is reflected in texts from the first half of the 18th century. Brockes' poems are no exception, as 'Die ihr aus dunkeln Grüften' proves: "You who from dark vaults dig out useless mammon, behold what riches await you here in the open air. Do not say: it's merely light and colour. It cannot be counted and locked up in coffers".

Handel has only set single stanzas as independent arias; there are no duets or recitatives. All arias are written in da capo form, with the exception of 'In den angenehmen Büschen', which has two sections but no repeats. In all arias the soprano is supported by basso continuo, and one instrument. Here a violin is used, and although Handel didn't specify the instrument he had in mind, David Vickers, in his programme notes, argues that the transverse flute would not be able to play the bottom C in 'Süße Stille'. This is based upon the idea that in all arias the obbligato instrument should be the same. That seems plausible, but by no means absolutely necessary. 

The performance is pretty good: Carolyn Sampson sings well and she seems to have a healthy understanding of the texts. Her German pronunciation is rather good as well. But in comparison Emma Kirkby and London Baroque are much more convincing. The tempi are generally faster and as a result the rhythmic pulse is much stronger. Ms Kirkby's diction is sharper and her articulation and dynamic differentation are better. This is mirrored by the playing of the violin part. London Baroque's Ingrid Seifert plays with much more variety than Stéphanie-Marie Degand, even though her playing isn't at all bad. 

In addition The King's Consort performs the three sonatas for oboe and b.c. which are of established authenticity. David Vickers correctly writes that Handel's chamber music is "a quagmire of doubtful authenticity and numerous sonatas assigned to the wrong solo instrument". He also refers to the fact that Handel considered the oboe his favourite instrument. It is a little surprising then that he composed so little for the oboe as solo instrument, although his vocal and orchestral works contain many wonderful obbligato parts for it. The three sonatas on this disc are certainly splendid, and Alexandra Bellamy plays them quite beautifully, although the menuet of the Sonata in F is a little flat. It would have helped if the unstressed notes had been played shorter. 

To sum up: this is a good recording, but in my opinion the recording by Emma Kirkby and London Baroque is still top of the bill and the favourite interpretation of these little gems.

Johan van Veen

 


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