George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Streams of Pleasure
Destructive war – Belshazzar, HVW 61* (1744) [2:27]
To thee, thou glorious son of worth – Theodora, HWV 68 (1749) [4:46]
Fury with red sparkling eyes – Alexander Balus, HWV 65* (1747) [6:06]
Lead me – Crystal streams in murmurs flowing – Susanna, HWV 66** (1748) [6:49]
From this dread scene – Judas Maccabeus, HWV 63 (1746) [3:01]
Streams of pleasure ever flowing – Theodora [5:40]
Ah! wither should we fly? – As with rosy steps the morn – Theodora [6:56]
Prophetic raptures swell my breast – Joseph and his Brethren, HWV 59** (1743) [8:49]
Our limpid streams with freedom flow – Joshua, HWV 64 (1747) [2:59]
Can I see my infant gor’d – Solomon, HWV 67** (1748) [4:26]
Fair virtue shall charm me - Alexander Balus* [2:39]
Thou fair inhabitant – Welcome as the dawn of day – Solomon [4:03]
Forgive me – My father – Hercules, HWV 60** (1744) [6:42]
But why art thou disquieted – Oh! that I on wings could rise – Theodora** [4:29]
Great victor, at your feet I bow – Belshazzar [5:08]
**Karina Gauvin (soprano)/*Marie-Nicole Lemieux (contralto)/Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis
rec. January 2011, Villa San Fermo, Lonigo, Italy
English texts and French translations included
NAÏVE V 5261 [75:08]
I can’t recall previously encountering either of the two Canadian singers on this CD but they make a very favourable impression. In addition, whoever has been responsible for choosing the programme has done so with a discerning ear for there’s some ravishing music here and it’s also good to encounter a number of less familiar items from some of Handel’s less frequently heard oratorios, such as Alexander Balus and Joseph and his Brethren.
I am slightly perplexed by some of the ordering of the items on this disc: there are several instances where items from the same oratorio stand in splendid isolation within the programme, where grouping might have been preferable. It will be noted, for example, that the items from Theodora are dotted about rather haphazardly. In one sense I can understand this because Marie-Nicole Lemieux assumes two different characters: Didymus and Irene. However, the ordering of the numbers means that we switch about from one act to another, seemingly at random. It might have been more sensible to programme the pieces from this oratorio as a single group. More bafflingly, the opening track and the very last one are both from Belshazzar and in the complete work they follow each other – indeed, in the booklet essay it says quite clearly that one “leads directly” into the other. Breaking them up, therefore, seems to make little sense. It’s a pity that when so much else about this disc is so good, that a bit more care hasn’t been taken over this one aspect of presentation.
But enough of reservations, for there’s much here not just to enjoy and also to celebrate. Both these two singers have beautiful, sensuous voices. If you insist on hearing baroque music sung sans vibrato then read no further. But if you delight in lovely tone, evenly produced and in communicative, vivid singing that conveys an evident love of the music in question then this disc is for you. Each of these singers knows how to use vibrato and vocal colour and they do so most delightfully. Miss Lemieux is a genuine contralto and her tone is rich and full. Hers is quite a big voice but it’s certainly not an inflexible instrument and she is more than capable of negotiating fast, florid passagework with aplomb – and with clarity. Sample, for example, ‘Destructive war’; there’s no want of agility here. I ought to say that this aria affords one of a few examples during the programme where both singers betray in their vowel sounds that they are not Anglophones. So, here we get “destroctive” war. However, though these instances are noticeable they are not excessive; one soon adjusts and pleasure in the overall quality of the singing is not compromised.
There are some beguiling solos from each singer, to which we’ll come in a minute, but the duets are especially remarkable, for in every duet we can revel in hearing two well-matched, sensuous and expressive voices together. An early example in the programme is ‘To thee, thou glorious son of worth’. Even more noteworthy is the gorgeous duet from Solomon, ‘Welcome as the dawn of day’ where the full, expressive sound of each singer is completely apt for this seductive music.
Besides combining beautifully in duet each singer has several solos and all these are ideally suited to their respective voices. Karina Gauvin is deeply expressive in the opening section of ‘Can I see my infant gor’d’ and then, at the words “Take him all” she becomes movingly resolute. This is a convincing and touching performance of the aria. Just as fine is her rendition of ‘Forgive me – My father’. She conveys the tragic vein of the first part of the aria splendidly but then she’s even more compelling in the calm acceptance of the second half – “Peaceful rest, dear parent shade”. I noted that both this and another of her solos, ‘Prophetic raptures swell my breast’, were composed for the soprano who created the role of Semele and one suspects that this, too, would be a role that would suit Miss Gavin well.
Not to be outdone, Marie-Nicole Lemieux excels in ‘Fury with red sparkling eyes’, an aria that finds her in fiery form. That’s suitable for the warrior side of the character of Alexander Balus. However, Handel also shows Balus as a lover in ‘Fair virtue shall charm me’ and here Miss Lemieux offers warm, voluptuous tone that’s entirely suitable for this music.
In that aria we are treated also to some lovely oboe playing and this is as good a moment as any to say that the accompaniment provided by Il Complesso Barocco is exemplary throughout the recital. The playing is stylish and, where called for, very spirited, as in ‘Fury with red sparkling eyes’. Alan Curtis is a noted and extremely experienced Handelian so it should not be surprising, perhaps, that everything on this disc is done so very well.
The title of this recital, taken from one of the items from Theodora, is entirely apposite. I derived nothing but pleasure from listening to this disc. The music is all taken from English oratorios composed by Handel between 1744 and 1750 so we are offered a succession of numbers from the high noon of Handel’s career. Every single item is superbly delivered by these two fine singers, brilliantly supported by Alan Curtis and his responsive band. This is one of the finest Handel recitals to have come my way in a long time and it’s a delight from start to finish.
I derived nothing but pleasure from listening to this disc. It’s a delight from start to finish.