Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Between Heaven and Earth
La Resurrezione HWV 47 (1708)
Aria ‘Disserratevi, o porte d’Averno’ [4:36]
Theodora HWV 68 (1750)
Recitative ‘O Thou bright Sun!’ [0:38]
Aria ‘With darkness deep as is my woe' [3:35]
A song for St Cecilia’s day HWV 76 (1739)
Aria ‘What passion cannot music raise and quell’ [8:47]
Messiah HWV 56 (1742)
Aria ‘Rejoice greatly’[3:52]
Largo [1:26]
Alexander Balus HWV 65 (1748)
Aria ‘O take me from this hateful light’ [4:37]
Recitative ‘Forgive, O queen’ [0:29]
Accompagnato ‘Calm thou my soul’ [0:44]
Aria ‘Convey me to some peaceful shore’ [2:48]
Joseph and his brethren HWV 59 (1744)
Recitative ‘Art thou not Zaphnath? Is not Egypt sav’d?’ [0:29]
Aria ‘Prophetic raptures swell my breast’ [8:07]
L’allegro, Il penseroso, ed Il moderato
Duet ‘As steals the morn upon the night’ [6:11] ¹
Solomon HWV 67 (1749)
Symphony (‘The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba') [2:49]
L’allegro, il penseroso, ed il moderato HWV 55 (1740)
Accompagnato ‘First and chief on golden wing’ [0:49]
Accompagnato Aria ‘Sweet bird' [12:40]
Concerto Grosso in B Flat Major, op.3 no.2 HWV 313 (c.1710) - Largo [2:40]
Samson HWV 57 (1743)
Aria ‘Let the bright seraphims' [5:10]
Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno HWV 46a (1707)
Accompagnato ‘Pure del cielo’ [1:00]
Aria ‘Tu del Ciel ministro eletto' [5:25]
Sandrine Piau (soprano)
Topi Lehtipuu (tenor) ¹
Accademia Bizantina/Stefano Montanari
rec. December 2008, church of San Girolamo, Bagnacavallo
NAÏVE OP 30484 [67:15]

This is a slightly inconsistent disc, but then if one doesn’t dare then one doesn’t achieve. I rather wish however that things hadn’t begun with Disserratevi, o porte d’Averno from La Resurrezione because it seems to me by some way the weakest track. It’s clearly programmed first to make a point. And, yes, it’s certainly declamatory - in spades. Piau is laying down a volatile remit, a marker of expressive intervention, but it strikes me that the runs are flashy and her tone is consistently too hard, with an exaggerated da capo into the bargain. There may be some disagreement here, and that’s healthy, but having listened numerous times in humours ranging from choleric to sanguine I keep coming back to the précis above.

After this things vastly improve. This is an oratorio album - English and Italian - and so it’s right that she essays With darkness deep as is my woe from Theodora. It is very affectingly done. In the same way Convey me to some peaceful shore (from Alexander Balus) is taken at a distinctive, slow tempo and works exceptionally well. I liked the general direction of What passion cannot music raise and quell - though I will note in passing both my admiration for cellist Marco Frezzato’s musicianship and also my dislike of the actual sound of his baroque cello. And I ought also in fairness to register slight disappointment at Piau’s diction too. Rejoice greatly is taken at the more unusual 12/8 and it duly swings with vitality.

If her divisions in the opening track put me on edge, the converse is true of Prophetic raptures swell my breast where their accuracy and buoyancy are a tonic. She’s joined by the mellifluous tenor Topi Lehtipuu for the duet As steals the morn upon the night. A purely orchestral - and misconceived - contribution arrives via the Accademia Bizantina whose bulgy, accent-crazed performance of The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba got on my nerves. The instrumental soloists acquit themselves admirably elsewhere - notably the oboists, and flautist Marcello Gatti in the inevitable Sweet Bird. Let the bright seraphim is a popular choice, strongly dispatched if occasionally a touch overdone.

So, this is a strongly personalised recital, very well recorded indeed. The booklet contains three language texts. Handel vocal recital discs, though: too many? Discuss.

Jonathan Woolf