George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Finest Arias for Base Voice
Christopher Purves (bass)
Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen
rec. All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London, 19-24 January 2011. DDD.
Booklet with texts and translations included - as pdf document with download
Track-listing at end of review.
HYPERION CDA67842 [70:54]
This just missed my 2012/24 Download News and it’s much too good anyway not to receive an airing among the main MusicWeb International reviews. Many years ago in my first teaching post I had a colleague who could make a very creditable stab at these bass arias and there were then a number of fine recordings of them. They have rather gone out of fashion now but they deserve to be revived and Christopher Purves is just the man to do so, very ably abetted here by Arcangelo and Jonathan Cohen. I’m sure my former colleague wouldn’t mind my saying that his very creditable renditions are not in the same league; this could well be one of my Recordings of the Year next time around.
Perhaps the reason for the neglect of this repertoire stems from the fact that many of Handel’s bass roles are villains - the monster Polifemo in his Italian version of Aci, Galatea e Polifemo and Polyphemus in the later English version written for Cannons, or Lucifer in hisLa Resurrezione, another work composed in Italy. Those villains are certainly represented here - and most villainously, too, from the very first track on which the Saracen King Argante sings of the hissing serpenta of Alecto and the following track on which Polyphemus rages and burns.
There’s tenderness, too, as on track 3 where Polyphemus expresses his love for Galatea, and Purves does tender equally well. This villain has a heart, too, and Purves joins the best interpreters of the role over the years who have brought out this tender side. Nor does he overdo the revengeful ire of Valens threatening racks, gibbets, sword and fire for those Christians like Theodora who oppose his decree (tr.13). There’s plenty of ire here, but he resists the temptation to make Valens into a pantomime villain.
Handel’s basses are also powerful figures, like the mage Zoroastro who expounds on Orlando’s loss of reason through love on track 11. Here too I’m very impressed by the power of the singing. It’s especially effective, following as it does the different moods of the preceding tracks, Abinoam’s Tears, such as tender fathers shed (tr.9) and Gobrias’ aria of thanks to Cyrus for having laid low the Israelites’ oppressor (tr.10). We have two excellent recordings of Orlando (William Christie/Warner Classical and Christopher Hogwood/Decca) but a new rival with Purves as Zoroastro would present a strong challenge.
No collection of Handel’s bass arias would be complete without Revenge, Timotheus cries, from Alexander’s Feast, the penultimate item on this recital - more snakes in the hair of the Furies, and very well done but again without going over the top. We don’t end with a bang - nor with a whimper, either, but with a sensitive evocation of the gentler tone of Leave me, loathsome light from Semele, in which Somnus lulls himself to sleep.
That apart, sleep is the last thing that this new recording is likely to induce in its listeners. Not only is it worthy of comparison with such great predecessors as Owen Brannigan, whose Polyphemus, with Sir Adrian Boult conducting Acis and Galatea, is still worth seeking out on Chandos or Australian Decca Eloquence, it also continues Hyperion’s strong tradition of Handel performance. Three of these are advertised in the booklet - the most recent Arias for Guadagni (Handel and Hasse, Iestyn Davies, again with Arcangelo, CDA67924 - review), earlier releases from Emma Kirkby and Catherine Bott (CDS44271/3, 3 CDs at a special price: Bargain of the Month - review and review) and Heroic Arias sung by James Bowman with the King’s Consort on budget-price Hyperion Helios CDH55370 (July 2012/2 Download Roundup).
I listened to the new recording in 24-bit download form, which makes it superior to the CD and it is, indeed, excellent - but I doubt whether you would have any problems with the latter. At 700MB the 24-bit is probably a little too large to burn to CDR, so those who like to have the physical disc will have to buy the CD or download the 16-bit CD-equivalent version. As always with Hyperion, the quality of the booklet is an added advantage.
I’d encourage you to make a bee-line for all those Hyperion recordings of arias and duets in one format or another, but also to investigate some of Hyperion’s distinguished complete recordings of Handel operas and oratorios. Most of all it’s to the two CDs with Arcangelo in accompaniment, the current recording and the earlier Arias for Guadagni, that I would direct your attention. I didn’t make Arias for Guadagni a Recording of the Month (June 2012/2 Download Roundup) and, on reflection, I’m wondering why, especially as it won an award, so the accolade is actually for both that and Finest Arias for Base Voice. No reservations? Well, that title with the cod spelling and mixed-up fonts is a bit of pseudo-eighteenth-century flummery, but that’s hardly a serious criticism. 

Brian Wilson 

Worthy of comparison with the great Handel basses of the past.

see also review by Jonathan Woolf (January 2013 Recording of the Month)

Sibilar gli angui d’Aletto (Argante) (Act 1 No 10. Aria from Rinaldo, HWV7a) [4:50]
I rage, I melt, I burn! (Polyphemus) (Part 2 No 02. Accompagnato from Acis and Galatea, HWV49a) [1:21]
O ruddier than the cherry (Polyphemus) (Part 2 No 03. Air from Acis and Galatea, HWV49a) [3:13]
Fra l’ombre e gl’orrori (Polifemo) (No 23. Aria from Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, HWV72) [6:59]
If I give thee honour due (L’Allegro) (Part 1 No 14. Recitative from L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, HWV55) [0:12]
Mirth, admit me of thy crew (L’Allegro) (Part 1 No 15. Air from L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, HWV55) [2:34]
Qual’insolita luce (Lucifero) (Part 1 No 3. Accompagnato from La Resurrezione, HWV47) [1:09]
Caddi, è ver (Lucifero) (Part 1 No 4. Aria from La Resurrezione, HWV47) [4:15]
Tears, such as tender fathers shed (Abinoam) (Part 3 Scene 2 No 2. Air from Deborah, HWV51) [2:30]
To pow’r immortal my first thanks are due (Gobrias) (Act 3 Scene 3. Air from Belshazzar, HWV61) [3:55]
Impari ognun da Orlando (Zoroastro) (Act 3 Scene 6 No 10. Accompagnato from Orlando, HWV31) [1:11]
Sorge infausta una procella (Zoroastro) (Act 3 Scene 6 No 11. Aria from Orlando, HWV31) [4:35]
Racks, gibbets, sword and fire (Valens) (Act 1 No 5. Air from Theodora, HWV68) [3:56]
Volate più dei venti (Porsena) (Act 3 No 6. Aria from Muzio Scevola, HWV13) [3:24]
Vieni, o cara (Claudio) (Act 1 Scene 21. Aria from Agrippina, HWV6) [1:45]
Nel mondo e nell’abisso (Isacio) (Act 3 Scene 4. Aria from Riccardo Primo, Re d’Inghilterra, HWV23) [3:13]
Mie piante correte (Apollo) (No 17. Aria from Apollo e Dafne, HWV122) [2:50]
Cara pianta (Apollo) (No 18. Aria from Apollo e Dafne, HWV122) [7:27]
Revenge, Timotheus cries (Part 2 No 2. Air from Alexander’s Feast, HWV75) [7:55]
Leave me, loathsome light (Somnus) (Act 3 Scene 1. Air from Semele, HWV58) [3:40] 
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