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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Radamisto: ‘Se teco vive il cor’ [3:16]
Rodelinda: ‘Io t’abbraccio’ [6:52]
Soloman: ‘Welcome as the dawn of day’ [3:09]
Theodora: ‘Streams of pleasure ever flowing’ [6:47]
Ottone: ‘Notte cara!’ [4:35]
Theodora: ‘To thee, thou glorious son of worth’ [4:54]
Ariodante: ‘Bramo haver mille vite’ [4:50]
Belshazzar: ‘Great victor, at your feet I bow’ [4:57]
Tamerlano: ‘Vivo in te’ [7:00]
Sosarme: ‘Per le porte del tormento’ [7:32]
Agrippina: ‘No, no, ch’ io non apprezzo’ [3:53]
Giulio Cesare: ‘Caro! Bella! [4:48]
Rosemary Joshua (soprano); Sarah Connolly (mezzo)
The English Concert/Harry Bicket
rec. Church of St Silas the Martyr, London, 20-23 July 2009. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 0767 [62:44]

Experience Classicsonline

CDs of opera and oratorio arias and duets by Handel are hardly a rare event. Last year’s 250th anniversary of the composer’s death lead to something of a glut in the market. In this respect, Chandos - under its early music Chaconne label - has made a wise choice in waiting until this year to release this recording of dramatic duets. It enables us to sit back and assess it on its own terms rather than as yet another anniversary act of homage.

And this disc really is worth considering closely. Superbly recorded, it sounds alive, clear and acoustically rich. It also features a well balanced programme, mixing operatic with oratorio duets that cover the full range of emotional experiences endured by Handel’s characters – from painful separation to joyous reunion; and from loving harmony to malign scheming.

The playing from the English Concert under Harry Bicket is excellent. Their performance is a fully ‘authentic’ affair on original instruments, with the usual sections of the baroque orchestra augmented by organ, archlute and baroque guitar. The recording balance brings them more to the fore than is often the case in Handel recordings, and turns them from stage supporters, to fully fledged actors in each of the short scenarios. Take for example the painterly introduction to ‘To thee, thou glorious son of worth’ from Theodora (track 6), or the plaintive flutes that accompany ‘Vivo in te’ from Tamerlano (track 9).

And what of the two soloists – soprano Rosemary Joshua and mezzo Sarah Connolly? Both are experienced Handelians in the recording studio and, more importantly, on stage, and therefore bring an insight, vigour and commitment to each of their roles. Their voices are also sufficiently varied to enable the listener to differentiate between them: Joshua’s is bright and lithe; Connolly’s warm and supple. Occasionally their blend is a little indistinct – in ‘Notte cara!’ from Ottone, for example (track 5) – and Connolly’s characterisation of roles originally sung by male castrati could do with a little beefing up. But for sheer vocal beauty, there is very little to fault.

John-Pierre Joyce