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George Frideric HANDEL (1685 – 1759)
Rolando Villazon (tenor)
Gabrieli Players/Paul McCreesh
rec. All Saints’, Tooting, April – May 2008
Sung texts and English, German and French translations enclosed
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 8056 [59:26]
Experience Classicsonline

1. Ciel e terra armi di sdegno (Bajazet, act I) [3:22]
Rodelinda, regina de’ Longobardi
2. Fatto inferno è il mio petto (Grimoaldo, act III) [2:45]
3. Pastorello d’un povero armento (Grimoaldo, act III) [4:46]
4. Frondi tenere e belle (Serse, act I) [0:42]
5. Ombra mai fu (Serse, act I) [2:42]
6. Più che penso alle fiamme del core (Serse, act I)[6:52]
7. Crude furie degl’orridi abissi (Serse, act III) [3:42]
8. Scherza, infida, in grembo al drudo! (Ariodante, act II) [9:44]
9. Dopo notte atra e funesta (Ariodante, act III) [6:42]
10. Oh, per me lieto, avventuroso giorno! (Bajazet, Tamerlano) … Fremi, minaccia … No, vo’ seguirti anch’io (Bajazet, Asteria) … O sempre avversi dei! (Bajazet) (act III) [3:43]
with Rebecca Bottone (Asteria), Jean Gadoullet (Tamerlano)
11. Figlia mia, non pianger (Bajazet, act III) [2:08]
12. Tu, spietato, il vedrai (Bajazet, act III) [3:25]
La Resurrezione
13. Così la tortorella (San Giovanni) [4:19]
14. Caro figlio! (San Giovanni) [4:34]


A couple of years ago Rolando Villazon surprised his many admirers by appearing in a recording of Monteverdi’s Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. That seemed a gigantic leap in time and performing style for a singer so far known for his singing of the French and Italian repertoire of the 19th and early 20th century. I have only heard an excerpt from that recording but my colleague Robert Hugill had some serious reservations even though he also found things to admire (see review). When he tackles a number of Handel arias he is a full century closer in time but stylistically this music is worlds distant from Gounod, Verdi and Puccini.

As on the Monteverdi disc he has again allied himself with a period performance group, this time Paul McCreesh and his Gabrieli Players. Their lean sound has clearly affected his approach, though he can hardly be mistaken for a baroque specialist. That said – and I don’t see much wrong with a star singer applying the power and intensity of later époques to this repertoire – there is a lot of marvellous singing here.

One obvious problem with a recital like this is that Handel’s tenor arias are rarely among his best. Thus Villazon has also included some alto arias and transposed them – a step that Handel probably wouldn’t have minded.

Bajazet in Tamerlano is a tenor and this is certainly top drawer music. Villazon sings the first act aria Ciel e terra with admirable verve and intensity. He displays a virtuosity in the florid passages that is unique for a tenor who normally sings Rodolfo and Des Grieux. It is true that Villazon also in his normal repertoire has a lightness that makes him stand out but here he has lightened the tone further while retaining his sense of drama. Grimoaldo’s aria from Rodelinda is also lyrical and Villazon embellishes the second verse, as he does in other arias. He also sports a trill that is impeccable.

The famous ‘largo’ from Serse – in fact Handel’s tempo marking is ‘larghetto’ – has been heard by all voice-types and instruments. Just hours before I listened to Villazon I had heard Franco Corelli turn Ombra mai fu into a verismo aria – glorious but wayward.  Villazon sings this opening aria with an inward sensibility and does so beautifully. But we also get Più che penso from the same act and Crude furie from act III. These show us Serse in livelier mood and Villazon executes the advanced embellishments with rhythmic verve and easy voice production. The third act aria is truly virtuosic and possibly the most impressive thing on this recital.

Ariodante’s beautiful second act aria Scherza, infida shows Villazon’s flexibility and ability to nuance his singing. In the well known Dopo notte his effortless coloratura is amazing.

Returning to Tamerlano and the third act, Bajazet’s death scene, we find Handel at his most dramatic and expressive in the changes between secco and accompagnato recitatives. Then comes the arioso Figlia mia, sung with exquisite half-voice, followed by the dramatic recitative Tu, spietato. This is a scene that is far ahead of its time in psychological credibility. Jean Gadoullet is heard briefly as Tamerlano and Rebecca Bottone is a fine Asteria, the daughter of Bajazet.

The final two arias are something quite different. They are from the sacred oratorio La resurrezione, written while Handel was in Rome and premiered on Easter Sunday 1708. In other words this is music by the young Handel. The music is rather idyllic but as with almost everything Handel wrote it has a personal stamp. Caro figlio has a passacaglia-like bass line and the aria is extremely beautifully sung.

I suspect that not every baroque music-lover will go into a trance when hearing this but I believe that there are quite a number of non-baroque lovers for whom this disc will be an ear-opener, revealing the riches of the baroque repertoire. Both categories should also be aware of the presence of the Gabrieli Players, certainly one of the very best period instrument groups. I would go so far as to say that there is even some cross-fertilisation between singer and musicians, to the advantage of both. This is in a way as much cross-over as confrontations between popular and classical music. As such the disc should also be heard.

Göran Forsling




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