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. 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!
9. Dopo notte atra e funesta
(Ariodante, act III) [6:42]
10. Oh, per me lieto, avventuroso giorno!
… 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]
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.