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Soprano Cantatas
George Frideric HANDEL

Silete Venti
, HWV 242 [26.01]
Johann Adolf HASSE (1699–1783)
La Gelosia [18.01]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750)
Non sa che sia dolore
, BWV209 [21.50]
Emma Kirkby (soprano) (Handel); Sophie Boulin (soprano) (Hasse); Isabelle Poulenard (soprano) (Bach)
Cappella Coloniensis/Hans-Martin Linde (Handel, Hasse); Ferdinand Leitner (Bach)
rec. Bielfeld, Oekerhalle, 31 March 1985 (Handel), 8 June 1985 (Hasse), 8 June 1987 (Bach)
Experience Classicsonline

Handel’s Silete Venti was written in the 1720s. This was rather late in his career for a Latin motet – especially one constructed like a cantata. It could hardly have been written for an English church service so we must presume that it was written for another occasion, presumably for one of his star sopranos. It is a dazzling work. Handel was justly proud of it, as he raided it numerous times, notably for his oratorio Esther.
I have always assumed that Handel’s sopranos had bigger, richer-toned voices than Kirkby but this is not a question which can be definitively answered. Instead we must address ourselves to the question of whether Kirkby satisfies in this music, and the answer must be a resounding yes. The motet was recorded over twenty years ago when she was in her prime. The voice is beautifully focused and flexible. She navigates around Handel’s vocal lines with obvious joy and communicates her enthusiasm. This pin-point accuracy is combined with her familiar sweetness of tone. No, she doesn’t have a big dramatic voice, but what she does here is testimony enough to her musicality and the beauty of her voice.
The disc contains three cantatas/motets by three baroque composers, all recorded during the 1980s by three rather different sopranos. Frankly, I would have preferred it if we had had Kirkby for all three. But the repertoire is fascinating so I am happy to report that the other two sopranos are more than adequate.
Sophie Boulin is the soloist in Johan Adolf Hasse’s cantata La Gelosia. Hasse was 14 years younger than Handel and Bach. Born in Hamburg, like Handel he travelled to Italy in his youth and became one of the leading purveyors of opera seria. He married Handel’s prima donna, Fautina Bordoni, and the pair ruled the Dresden Opera House. Hasse’s operas were much beloved of singers. His work lacks the dramatic and emotional depth of Handel’s, but Hasse was able to construct brilliant virtuoso arias which enabled singers to show off their best talents.
La Gelosia sets a text by Metastasio, many of whose opera libretti Hasse set. The cantata works like a short opera-scena. Whilst Handel would probably have managed to write a work which made the singer sound more jealous, Hasse has created a pair of arias which show off the singer quite brilliantly. Boulin does not quite have the same easy flexibility as Kirkby, particularly in the upper reaches of the voice. However she copes well with Hasse’s demands and gives a more than creditable account.
The final piece on the disc is an Italian cantata which is probably by J.S. Bach. The text, though in Italian, was written by a German for an unspecified occasion. The music, if not by Bach, comes from his circle. It must be borne in mind that we know few of Bach’s early, non-sacred cantatas. The piece opens with a lovely movement for strings and solo transverse flute. When the voice enters things are a little less happy, Isabelle Poulenard has a rather edgy tone and her passage-work tends to be laboured. This is not an ideal performance, but Poulenard’s limitations are not enough to put one off; there is still much to enjoy.
All three singers are well accompanied by Cappella Coloniensis and this makes for a delightful programme.
Robert Hugill


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