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CD: Crotchet

George Frideric HANDEL (1685Ė1759)
Trio Sonata in B flat major, Op. 2 no. 3, HWV 388 [10.13]
Pensieri notturni di Filli, HWV 143 [7.05]
Trio Sonata in G minor, Op. 2 no. 5, HWV 390a [10.24]
Agrippina condotaa a morire, HWV 110 [24.22]
Trio Sonata in C minor, HWV 386a [10.33]
Johanna Koslowsky (soprano); Musica Alta Ripa (Danya Segal (recorder); Anne Rohrig (violin); Ursula Bundies (violin); Guido Larisch (cello); Bernward Lohr (harpsichord))
rec. October 1990, Stephansstift, Hannover
Experience Classicsonline

This disc was warmly welcomed by critics back in 1998 and over a decade later, the disc remains fresh and lively. The young group of instrumentalists, Musica Alta Ripa mix Handel Trio Sonatas from his Op. 2, with a pair of soprano cantatas, including the substantial Agrippina condotta a morire.

Part of the joy of listening to Handelís Trio Sonatas is to re-discover other elements of his music which he re-used in these pieces. The sonatas appear to have been written as a matter of creative choice, rather than being written specifically for publication. The three Trio Sonatas on this disc all date from around 1718 when Handel had been in London for a few years. The Trio Sonatas in B flat major and G minor were published in 1730 as numbers 3 and 5 of Handelís Op. 2. The Trio Sonata in C minor was transposed down to B minor for publication, probably so that the work could be played on the transverse flute.
The vast majority of Handelís cantatas were written during the period that he was in Italy. Most were written for private events in the homes (or palaces) of his patrons such as Prince Ruspoli and Cardinals Colonna, Pamphili and Ottoboni. Much of our knowledge of the dating of these pieces comes from examination of the paper on which they are written in conjunction with the bills from the copyists employed by the various patrons.
Both cantatas on this disc seem to have been written in Rome in or around 1708. Pensieri notturni di Filli is a pastoral cantata which deals with the sleeping Phyllis, who dies out of love and is turned into an almond tree. Handelís use of a solo recorder is typical of the pastoral setting. Agrippina by contrast is a far more substantial work, consisting of a sequence of arias and recitative. The cantata takes as its subject Agrippina, the mother of Empress Nero, being led to her death on Neroís orders. The anonymous librettist shows Agrippina being torn between the two extremes of hate and love for her wayward son.
We can imagine these cantatas being performed, to a select audience, with Handel at the keyboard accompanying one of the choice vocalists of the day along with a instrumentalists in the patronís employ. The vocalists need not have been female. Though Handel performed in Rome with Margherita Durastantini, with whom he would forge a long and fruitful partnership, Agrippina† seems to have been premiered by the castrato Pasqualino Tiepoli.
Musica Alta Ripaís performances are crisp, lively and fresh. They succeed in giving this delightful music a new-minted feel and make us appreciate Handelís genius afresh. They seem to have natural feeling for Handelís melodic lines and musical structures, and display fine musicality along with immense charm. All in all, they are captivating.
Soprano Johanna Koslowsky makes an apt partner. She brings charm to pastoral cantata Pensieri notturni, but in Agrippina she gives due weight to its greater dramatic structure. In these cantatas, Handel experimented with techniques which he would carry over into his mature operas; in fact much of the material of his Italian cantatas found its way into the operas. Though this performance is on a relatively small scale, Koslowsky and her partners make us realise that Agrippina is an operatic scena in all but name.
There are elements to Koslowskyís voice which are not perfect. At times she has a slightly hollow tone and sometimes there is an edgy quality to her performance. But overall she is well matched to her accompanists and this performance is highly recommendable.
The CD booklet contains an article on the music, by Bernward Lohr - the harpsichordist of the group - plus full texts and translations.
This disc brings out the freshness Handelís invention in performances of real charm. It will appeal even to those who donít think theyíd like a disc of Handel trio sonatas and chamber cantatas.
Robert Hugill


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