Beauty of the Baroque
John DOWLAND (1563 – 1626)
1. Come again: sweet love doth now invite [2:42]
2. What if I never speed? [2:31]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685 – 1759)
3. Ombra mai fu (Serse) [2:54]
4. Let the bright Seraphim (Samson)¹ [5:34]
Henry PURCELL (1659 – 1695)
5. Thy hand, Belinda ... When I am laid in earth (Dido’s lament (Dido and Aeneas)) [5:07]
George Frideric HANDEL
6. Heart, the seat of soft delight (Acis and Galatea) [4:10]
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567 – 1643)
7. Pur ti miro (L’incoronazione di Poppea)* [4:35]
8. Quel sguardo sdegnosetto (Scherzi musicale) [3:01]
George Frideric HANDEL
9. Io t’abbraccio (Rodelinda)* [6:53]
10. Guardian angels, oh, protect me (The Triumph of Time and Truth) [5:59]
Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710 – 1736)
11. Stabat Mater (Stabat Mater)* [3:56]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 – 1750)
12. Sich üben im Leben (Cantata “Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten”, BWV 202)² [4:38]
13. Schafe können sicher weiden (Cantata “Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd!” BWV 208) [4:46]
Danielle de Niese (soprano), Andreas Scholl (counter-tenor)*
Mark Bennett (trumpet)¹, Katharina Sprerckelsen (oboe)²
The English Concert/Harry Bicket
rec. St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, 12-16 August 2010; Les Dominicains de Haute-Alsace, France, 24 January 2011 (7)
Sung texts and English, German and French translations enclosed
DECCA 478 2260 [56:50]

I admired Danielle de Niese’s Handel disc a lot but had reservations concerning her choice of arias some of which were too taxing. I had more serious misgivings when her Mozart arias CD came out though on the whole it was still recommendable. Now she has returned to the Baroque with this collection of lollipops and songs and arias that have, to a large extent, been fairly often recorded.

I still admire her beautiful voice and charming delivery. Among the highlights are a lively and dramatic Let the bright Seraphim from Samson with springy orchestral playing and excellent trumpet work from Mark Bennett. Then there’s the aria from Acis and Galatea where she radiates charm, and the two concluding Bach arias, of which Sich üben im Lieben is lovely. Guardian angels is no doubt gloriously sung but I hankered after softer nuances, and Ombra mai fu from Serse, devoid of its recitative is somewhat low for de Niese. Dido’s lament, this time with recitative, is involved and deeply felt – maybe a deeper voice would have brought greater dignity.

The Dowland songs are sung with a good feel for the lyrics, but we have become used to hearing them with a straighter voice; her vibrato is a mite too wide in this case. Quel sguardo sdegnosetto by Monteverdi is made to swing. It is well sung, some unsteadiness apart and de Niese’s singing has ‘face’.

As is often the case with recitals nowadays there is a guest artist. Andreas Scholl has been invited de Niese for three duets and these have some claims to be among the best, too. Pur ti miro, the concluding duet from Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, is no longer thought to have been composed by Monteverdi – some scholars suggest Cavalli – but whoever wrote it, it is a fine piece and is ravishingly sung here. The Rodelinda duet is certainly one of Handel’s finest creations and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater must also be counted among the young maestro’s best things. It was written in 1736, the year of his death. One of several brilliant talents who had to leave this mundane world too early. What would have become of him in just ten years’ time?

Harry Bicket has been at the head of the English Concert since September 2007 but he worked with the orchestra as harpsichordist as early as 1984, so no wonder there is excellent rapport between them. The playing here couldn’t be more accomplished.

A somewhat mixed bag, then, but there is such freshness and charm in whatever Danielle de Niese does that in the end one capitulates.

Göran Forsling

A somewhat mixed bag but there is such freshness and charm here that in the end one capitulates.