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extraordinary by any standards

An excellent disc

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Piano Concertos 1 and 2
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DIETHELM Symphonies

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La Mer Ticciati







alternatively Crotchet


George Frideric HANDEL (1685–1759)
Operatic Duets
Poro (1731)
1. Duetto: Caro amico amplesso!  [2:06]
Rinaldo (1711)
2. Duetto: Scherzano sul tuo volto [3:43]
Rodelinda (1725)
3. Recitativo: Non ti bastò, consorte … Duetto: Io t’abbraccio [7:21]
Silla (1713)
4. Recitativo: Mio diletto, she pensi? … Duetto: Sol per te, bell’idol mio [5:58]
Sosarme (1732)
5. Duetto: Per le porte del tormento [7:45]
Faramondo (1737)
6. Recitativo: Del destin non mi lagno … Duetto: Caro, tu m’accendi [6:49]
Atalanta (1736)
7. Recitativo: Amarilli? … Duetto: Amarilli? Oh Dei! Che vuoi? [6:14]
Muzio Scevola (1721)
8. Duetto: Vivo senz’alma, o bella [2:35]
Orlando (1733)
9. Duetto: Finché prendi [2:01]
10. Recitativo: Perfidi! Ite di Poro … Cavatina: Se mai più sarò geloso [2:48]
11. Recitativo: Macedoni guerrieri … Aria: Se mai turbo il tuo riposo [5:42]
12. Sinfonia to Act 3 [0:58]
Serse (1738)
13. Duetto: Gran pena è gelosia! [1:49]
14. Recitativo: Lode agli Dei … Duetto: Se mai turbo il tuo riposo [6:20]
Admeto (1727)
15. Duetto: Alma mia, dolce ristoro [4:25]
Flavio (1723)
16. Duetto: Ricordati, mio ben [4:02]
Teseo (1713)
17. Duetto: Addio, mio caro bene [2:50]
Patrizia Ciofi (soprano); Joyce Di Donato (mezzo)
Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis (harpsichord)
rec. 14–19 June 2003, Montevarchi, Italy
Sung texts and English translations enclosed
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5181792 [73:35]


Experience Classicsonline

Far too often operatic recitals are vehicles to present a solo artist in a number of standard arias. Once in a while there comes a record with duets: Thomas Hampson has appeared with Jerry Hadley as well as Samuel Ramey and there are others as well. However, as far as I can recall we haven’t had a disc with two women singers for quite some time. And when – as here – the repertoire is unhackneyed and still highly individual and written by one of the great masters, there is room for a hearty Bravo! Baroque opera in general was short on ensembles. The works consisted of a string of pearls of arias, connected by recitatives to carry the action forward. The arias were intended to show the characters’ personality and state of mind, but more often than not they were composed to show off the singers’ virtuosity. Duets and other ensembles – at the most one or two per opera – were rather ‘stale and stereotyped’, as Simon Heighes puts it in the liner-notes to this issue. But Handel was not just any opera composer; he was a master of the genre and he was also able to make ensembles come alive. This collection is ample proof.

Seventeen duets, including some recitative and a couple of solos, from operas that are rarely or never – well, hardly ever – performed in the opera houses or recorded complete makes this a disc for even well-stocked collectors. Performed by two singers well attuned to baroque music backed up by a small instrumental ensemble playing period instruments it makes further claims to be heard.

Seventeen scenes from thirteen operas, spanning almost the entire operatic period of Handel, have been arranged ‘to form an emotional journey of their own’. It is as good a concept as any and it works well. The only opera that is represented with more than one duet is Poro and those scenes are sprinkled out over the whole recital. In other words there is no chronology – we jump back and forth in time – but it works well.

The musical invention is, as almost always with Handel, on the highest possible level and one marvels anew at his ability to vary his utterances and invest the text with meaning, and just as much his orchestrations. The duet from Rodelinda (second part of track 3) is one stunning example. And there is much else. The dramatic recitative that opens the scene from Atalanta leads seamlessly into the almost tumultuous duet – a fine example of efficient theatricality. Even more impressive is the Orlando excerpt, which is a masterpiece. The two characters are clearly differentiated. Orlando is dominant and aggressive and his coloratura tells us – and Angelica – that he is not to tamper with. Angelica is serene and angelic. It’s a clash of two temperaments and the ‘walking bass’ in the accompaniment illustrates the conflict. All the music from Poro is also extremely inspired.

Good music tends to survive also mediocre performances while mediocre music needs excellent performers to make impact. About this recital there is nothing mediocre at all. There is a spring in the step of whatever Il Complesso Barocco plays and what better point to show that than the short – one minute only – sinfonia to act 3 of Poro. Joyce Di Donato’s powerful and pliant mezzo-soprano is ideally suited to travesti roles (in the original of course written for castratos) and Patrizia Ciofi’s lighter and brighter soprano could hardly be a better choice for the female parts. Her calling card in this recital could be the aria Se mai turbo il tuo riposo (tr. 11) from Poro, elegant and nuanced with a fine trill and stylish embellishments.

The disc is not new. It was issued four years ago to critical acclaim and is now reissued in a series with discs that had been recommended by Gramophone and The Penguin Guide. I hadn’t heard it in the original release but I fully share the two publications’ choice. Sound quality is excellent, playing time is generous, there are good liner-notes and we also get the sung texts and English translations, with one exception ‘taken from the wordbooks published for early performances of each opera in London’.

A superb disc with baroque opera duets!

Göran Forsling






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