George Frideric HANDEL (1685 Ė 1759)
Chi tíintende? (Berenice) (1737) [6.23]
Moriro (Teseo) (1713) [4.20]
Ah! Spietato! (Amadigi) (1715) [5.13]
Concerto a Quattro [2.08]
Languia di bocca lusinghiera [5.25]
Dolce riposo (Teseo) (1713) [2.56]
Io sperai (Il Trionfo del Tempo) (1707) [7.14]
Lascia chíio pianga (Rinaldo) (1711) [3.54]
Oboe concerto in g minor (1704/5) [10.36]
Scherza infida! (Ariodante) (1735) [9.03]
Mi palpita il cor [7.50]
Introduzione (Cantata ĎDelirio amorosoí) [4.41]
Caro, vieni a me (Riccardo Primo) (1727) [5.42]
Johannette Zomer (soprano)
Bart Schneemann (oboe)
Musica Amphion
rec. 2008, Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Do not be put off this CD by the rather fey art-work on its cover. The contents are a delightfully vibrant recital of Handelís music for soprano and oboe. The Dutch-based ensemble, Musica Amphion, accompany soprano Johannette Zomer and oboist Bart Schneemann in a programme that wanders widely over Handelís music. Zomer and Schneemann have selected operatic arias in which the oboe plays a key concertante role. To this, Schneemann adds a couple of works for solo oboe.

This is not the first collaboration between Schneemann and Zomer. Their first CD was a disc that included RVWís Blake Songs. One of the joys of the disc is that the two artists are real collaborators; Schneemann is most definitely not reduced to playing a back-seat role. He plays a baroque oboe and the instrumentís deeply mellifluous tone is not that dissimilar to Zomerís voice, which is another advantage.

The recital opens discreetly, with an aria from Berenice, an opera from the end of Handelís operatic career. But then they follow this with the spectacular Moriro from Teseo from the very beginning of Handelís London period. Here the sorceress Medea contemplates dying as well as being avenged. Handel combines lilting phrases with some coruscating cascades of notes. Zomer and Schneemann are equal to both and the aria is something of a triumph.

Ah! spietato from Amadigi also comes from early in Handelís London period. This is more lyrical. In fact the choice of arias does rather veer towards the lyrical rather than the spectacular, though I am not sure whether this is because of the performersí choices or Handelís response to the combination of voice and oboe.

The first instrumental-only item is a charming little Concerto a Quattro, of whose origins I must confess to being unsure.

After this comes the delightful cantata fragment Languia di bocca lusinghiera. This is followed by another more touching arioso from Teseo, but Dolce riposo was intended by Handel to be followed by a further recitative and aria. They donít include these which does rather spoil the effect. Though the actual performance of Dolce riposo is a gem.

Io sperai from Il trionfo del Tempo, which dates from Handelís time in Rome, is not so well known. In the aria Belleza bemoans her fate in a profoundly affecting style. Lascia chíio pianga from Rinaldo, Handelís first London opera, is one of the better known numbers in the recital, but none the worse for that. Zomer and Schneemann make the beauties of this aria tell without overdoing things, keeping the performance poised.

The Oboe concerto in g minor is one of Handelís earliest works and seems to date from before he left Germany. Here it receives a performance from Schneemann which brings out the work's charm without overdoing things.

A surprise inclusion is Scherza infida from Ariodante, this does not have a significant oboe part, but it does have a lovely bassoon line which is independent of the workís bass. Zomer seems to have no trouble with the ariaís tessitura; it was written for a castrato with a mezzo-soprano like voice. Her account is beautiful and moving though she does not mine the depths that some singers do in this piece.

This is followed by two further cantata fragments, the aria Mi palpita il cor and the instrumental introduction to Delirio amoroso. This latter is delightful and shows off Schneemannís oboe-playing. Itís a shame that they could not see their way to including the whole cantata.

The disc finishes with another lesser known aria, Caro, vieni a me, from Riccardo Primo. A delightful end to a fine recital.

Zomer has a lovely focused voice with a fine sense of line, something which is echoed by Schneemannís oboe playing. She is a very expressive singer and it is only in some of the passagework that she lets herself down. She seems to use vibrato sparingly, more as an ornament than a way of singing which is entirely apposite in this repertoire. In the pieces where she duets with the oboe, you do not feel there is a pull between disparate styles. In fact, one of the charms of this disc is the way that the two soloists perform together.

They are accompanied in entirely admirable fashion by Musica Amphion, whose accompaniments are lively and crisp. It is a shame that space was not found for the group to play an overture in their own right.

This is no assemblage of wall-to-wall Italian arias, performed without thought for mood or character. Zomer and Schneemann provide neat changes of mood and meaning and Zomer delineates character nicely.

This is not necessarily the most technically accomplished Handel recital to come my way, but it comes pretty close. The performers have assembled a programme that successfully mixes familiar and unfamiliar, and they perform it with style, charm and a nice poignancy. What more could you want?

Robert Hugill

Successfully mixes familiar and unfamiliar and performed with style, charm and a nice poignancy. What more could you want? ... see Full Review