| George Frideric
Splende l'alba in oriente HWV 166 [6.54] (1)
Figli del mesto cor HWV 112 [8.15] (2)
Dolce pur d'amor l'affano HWV 109a [7.36] (2)
Mi palpita il cor HWV 132c [12.39] (2)
Vedendo Amor HWV 175 [12.53] (2)
Venne voglia ad Amore HWV 176 [5.58] (3)
Fra pensieri quel pensiero HWV 115 [7.01] (3)
Sonata in B minor Op. 1 No. 9 HWV 367a [14.25] (4)
Un' alma innamorata HWV 173 [13.49] (5)
Dietro l'orme fugaci HWV 105 [13.53] (5)
Ouverture (Admeto, HWV 22) (1727) [5.34] (6)
Introduzione (Admeto, HWV 22) (1727) [3.19] (6)
Orride larve (Admeto, HWV 22) (1727) [6.06] (6)
Sinfonia (Admeto, HWV 22) (1727) [1.18] (6)
Fammi combattere (Orlando, HWV 31) (1733) [3.11] (6)
Cielo! Se tu il consenti (Orlando, HWV 31) (1733) [4.15] (6)
Dove sei (Rodelinda, HWV 19) (1725) [6.30)
Gavotte & Menuetto (Alcina, HWV 34) (1735) [6.27] (6)
Venti, turbini (Rinaldo, HWV 7a) (1711) [3.49] (6)
Va tacito (Giulio Cesare, HWV 17) (1724) [7.07] (6)
Passacaille & Giga (Radamisto HWV 12a) (1720) [1.18] (6)
Amor, nel mio penar (Flavio, HWV 16) (1723) [6.25] (6)
Rompo I lacci (Flavio, HWV 16) (1723) [5.06] (6)
Kowalski (alto) (1, 2); Axel Köhler (alto) (3, 6); Veronika Winter
(soprano) (5); Christine Schornsheim (harpsichord) (1, 2); Siegfried
Pank (viola da gamba) (1, 2); Karl-Heinz Passin (flute) (2); Christoph
Huntgeburth (flute) (3, 4); Anne Schumann (violin) (3, 4); Balazs
Mate (Cello) (3, 4); Raphael Alpermann (harpsichord) (3, 4)
Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin (1); Das Kleine Konzert (5); Handelfestspielorchester
des Opernhauses Halle (6); Hermann Max (conductor) (5); Howard Arman
rec. (1,2) Leipzig, Paul Gerhardt Kirche, 1988; (3,4) Bad Lauchstadt
Kursaal, March 1995; (5) Cologne, Deutschlandrundfunk, Sendsaal, March
2005; (6) Kursaal Bad Lauchstadt, October 1994
PHOENIX EDITION 404 [3 CDs: 53.04 + 55.45 + 66.02]
Handel's cantatas were written for some of the greatest singers
of the day to sing to Handel's keyboard accompaniment in the
salons of the great and the good in Italy and in London. He
wrote by far the majority of his cantatas whilst in Italy and
they formed a sort of proving ground for his operatic technique.
In fact many would be re-used in his later operas. Some have
instrumental accompaniment and a few are quite grand, but a
great many are written for just harpsichord and a few instruments.
So when thinking of these performances, we should bear in mind
that the situation was not so much Schubert performing amongst
a few friends and more like Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge
performing at Buckingham Palace.
This distinction is quite important for the way we attack the
cantatas. They should be performed by voices capable of doing
justice to the best of Handel's operas. They can be grandly
In this set Phoenix have assembled a number of different recitals
recorded at different periods. The first two discs are cantatas
and the final one operatic arias sung by Axel Köhler, who
sings two cantatas on the second disc.
On the first disc we have Jochen Kowalski, one of the first
German counter-tenors to come to international prominence. Though
one of his earliest roles was Giustino in Handel's Giustino,
he was known first in the UK for the title part in Gluck's Orfeo.
And it is in the more lyric music that Kowalski excels. His
voice is quite narrow of focus, with a relatively shallow bottom
register; it is not the most beautiful of voices, but it is
very expressive. He sings Handel beautifully fluently, with
due weight to the words and the drama. But occasionally he lets
himself down as his runs tend to be laboured or smudged.
What I missed most was the virtuoso sense of bravura that the
earlier performers of these works would have brought to the
pieces. And his vocal colouration lacks variety. Against that,
Kowalski sings with a fine sense of line and in the slower movements
contributes some really beautiful singing.
For the first cantata, Splende l'alba in oriente he is
nicely accompanied by the Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin, but
for the remainder there is just a harpsichord and viola da gamba,
with a flute joining the ensemble for Mi palpita il cor.
Such is the skill of composer and instrumentalists, that you
never miss the larger forces.
Whilst we associate the cantatas with Handel's Italian period,
he also wrote them in London in his early days. Splendide
l'alba in oriente, Dolce par d'amor l'afanno and Mi palpito
il cor were written in London. Figlio del mesto cor
possibly dates from 1707 (in Italy) or maybe even from Hannover,
and Vedendo Amor from Rome in 1707.
The second disc opens with a pair of cantatas sung by Axel Köhler,
Venne voglia ad Amore (Rome 1707) and Fra pensiero
quel pensiero, which lacks an autograph and survives in
an English manuscript but may in fact date from Handel's Italian
Köhler has a rich, vibrato-laden voice with bags of vocal
colour. Köhler has personality and should be ideal in this
repertoire. But here I found his singing lacked a good sense
of line and he rather swoops and slides about. So though Köhler
has the personality and something of the bravura that I want,
I must confess that I far preferred Kowalski.
Köhler is followed by a beautifully limpid performance
of the sixth of the Op. 1 flute sonatas. Christoph Huntegeburth's
flute playing is beautiful, but where necessary he and his companions
can stir us with some lovely virtuoso passages. I wished that
the vocal contributions had been as fine as this.
The Flute Sonata is followed by soprano Veronika Winter in a
pair of cantatas from Handel's Italian period accompanied by
Herman Max and Das Kleine Konzert. I am afraid that I found
Winter's voice narrow in tone and rather pallid. She has a lyric
voice which might have some potential, but she does not really
show it here. Technically she is quite acceptable, though her
line could be a little firmer. But the voice lacks colour and
there is no feel for words or drama.
For the final disc Axel Köhler returns, this time with
a programme of arias written for Senesino. These are interspersed
with instrumental items, in fact over a third of the disc is
devoted to instrumental music. This is a shame because it means
that all we hear of Alcina is a pair of dances, rather
than any of Senesino's music.
The Halle Orchestra are a modern instrument band and not the
most interesting group to listen to. Though their performance
is creditable and lively, each time they get a spot you wish
that Axel Köhler was singing. On this recording Köhler
is on far better form, or perhaps the recording has captured
his voice rather better. I incline to this latter view.
He is firmer of voice and gives a far better line than in the
two cantatas on the second disc. He also sings the arias with
a wonderfully vivid sense of swagger, something which is essential
if the opera arias are to come off. But the orchestra comes
over as rather dense at times so that you feel that Köhler
is forced to push his voice a little more than is desirable.
In an aria like Va tascito from Giulio Cesare,
you feel that Köhler would have benefited from lightness
and flexibility in the orchestra, something he doesn't get.
Instead the accompaniment is resolutely deliberate and seems
to get more so as the arias progresses.
At his best on this disc Köhler is vivid and dramatic,
singing the slower items with a superb sense of line. But I
am afraid that I just cannot like his passagework, where the
combination of fast notes and his vibrato seems to do something
strange and unsatisfactory.
When Köhler's recital of Senesino arias was originally
released, the Gramophone rather liked it. And there are many
aspects which are admirable, but overall I can't get too enthusiastic
The CD booklet includes a short article plus the texts in Italian
and German, but no English translations, which is rather frustrating
especially as the cantatas include some of the lesser known
This set includes some strong performances and some unsatisfactory
ones. But many Handelians will want it for the Handel cantatas
which are not often recorded.