Cantata: So Pleasing the Pain is
Cantata: With Roving and with Ragin
Cantata: To Lonely Shades [23.53]
I like the am’rous Youth [2.33]
An Answer to Collin’s Complaint [1.44]
The Forsaken Nymph [3.32]
Dear Adonis, beauty’s Treasure [5.04]
Love’s but the frailty of the mind
Twas when the Seas were roaring (The
Melancholy Nymph) [4.18]
Transporting Joy [3.11]
The centre-piece of
this new disc from The Brook Street
Band is a group of cantatas to music
by Handel, setting English texts. The
cantatas use a selection of arias from
Giulio Cesare, Teseo and
Ottone with no linking recitative.
Instead they take the form of dialogues
between two soloists, alternating arias
with a final duet. None of the surviving
sources has any of these pieces in Handel’s
own hand and it is tempting to assume
that some enterprising person simply
bought copies of Walsh’s published selections
from the operas and created their own
But, in her illuminating
booklet essay, Tatty Theo explains that
Walsh’s published scores do not include
all of the arias used in the cantatas.
The group includes an aria from the
1733 revival of Ottone, which
probably means that the cantatas were
assembled some time after this date.
Another, perhaps revealing, point is
that the original keys of the arias
have been altered in order to give the
cantatas a coherent key structure. All
this encourages Tatty Theo to suggest
that Handel was involved in some way
in the work’s creation.
Granted, his involvement
may have been minimal, limited to suggesting
arias and keys. Not every aria is blessed
with an English text which fits it as
well as the original Italian. Cesare’s
aria Va tacito becomes Soon
as the Day is breaking, (in the
cantata So Pleasing the Pain)
an aria about the pleasures of the
chase. So that the original's 'Silently
and stealthily the cunning hunter moves
when he is eager for the prey' becomes
'Soon as the dawn is breaking our
downy beds forsaking we'll hasten to
the field'. Though the general feeling
is paralleled, the allocation of words
is rather different, giving the aria
a rather lame feel. By contrast, in
the cantata To Lonely Shades,
the arias seem to fit their new texts
as if they had been composed that way.
Perhaps the arias which use less well
known material work the best; we are
not so attuned to the details of the
We may never know the
origin of these pieces and all we can
do is listen to this new recording and
delight in the felicity of this music.
The admirable singers, soprano Nicki
Kennedy and alto Sally Bruce-Payne are
accompanied by an ensemble consisting
of just two violins, cello and harpsichord.
Their lively accompaniment is so apposite
that you rarely miss the fuller orchestrations
of Handel’s originals.
Both Kennedy and Bruce-Payne
sing cantatas in a restrained, chamber
manner, rather noticeably less demonstrative
than if they had been singing in one
of the operas. Whilst Kennedy acquits
herself admirably I felt that perhaps
she was a little less comfortable with
Handel’s more elaborate passage-work.
Likewise Bruce-Payne tends to shine
in the more lyrical, plaintive numbers.
But both singers perform with great
charm and with a good feeling for Handel’s
music. The emphasis here is not so much
on bravura and virtuoso display as on
charm and character – also on a good
sense of musical line. There are moments
when the performance seems to be a little
too well balanced and that a shade more
angst and emotion might be called for;
but the fault may also lie with the
slight mismatches between words and
As for the cantatas
themselves, well, they are mainly about
love, with rather doggerel verse written
in an arch pastoral vein. Somehow this
only serves to add to their charms.
We tend to forget that, for the vast
majority of 18th century
music-lovers, their exposure to Handel
would be in works like this, small-scale
adaptations performed in people’s houses.
The results are not as great as some
of the original Italian chamber cantatas.
But when performed as winningly as they
are here they have great appeal.
The disc also includes
a selection of Handel’s original songs.
Two of these come from the lost English
cantata, Venus and Adonis which
Handel wrote in 1711. The remainder
were written for theatrical events,
two of them for the actress Kitty Clive
who sang Dalila in Samson.
The songs are not complex
pieces, but they charm immensely, providing
an interesting view of Handel, a view
not generally seen in the larger scale
works. The songs are all sung by Kennedy
who captures their fragile mood admirably.
Both singers have superb
diction; though the booklet includes
full texts you hardly need them.
The Brook Street Band
have already produced three discs devoted
to Handel’s chamber music and this new
one is a most welcome addition.