George Frideric Handel was every inch a man of the theatre. That not only comes to the fore in his operas and oratorios but also in his vocal and instrumental chamber music. It is not therefore surprising that there are many connections between the various genres to which Handel contributed. Thematic material from one composition often turns up in other works and even complete movements from instrumental pieces are reused in vocal works or vice versa. The title of this disc, 'Intimate theatre', is well chosen.
The largest part of the programme comprises sonatas for recorder and basso continuo. Handel's output in the sonata genre causes considerable problems because of the various scorings, Handel's own re-workings and often less than scrupulous editions by publishers who wanted to profit from the popularity of the composer's music. The four sonatas recorded here are established as authentic pieces for the recorder. As the liner-notes explain several of the movements are known in other scorings: operas, concerti grossi and organ concertos. Benoît Toïgo is a fine player: I was pleasantly struck by his relaxed style of playing and his beautiful tone. The most interesting aspect of his performance is the addition of ornaments which is very differentiated and imaginative, although some pieces are a bit overloaded. The cadenza in the alla breve
of the Sonata in d minor
is a little exaggerated. Fortunately extremely fast tempi are avoided. That is a great relief as I have heard some horrible examples of outrageous tempi recently.
However, one aspect is disappointing: the lack of drama. Considering the title of this disc that is rather surprising. Handel's chamber music has strongly theatrical traits but these are hardly explored. In the fast movements there is a lack of dynamic accenting, and the dramatic moments are not really conveyed. The furioso
from the sonata I just mentioned is too feeble.
Handel composed just one cantata with an obbligato
part for the recorder. It is best known as Nel dolce dell'oblio
which is the title used in the track-list. In his liner-notes Toïgo only mentions the original title Pensieri notturni di Filli
which is a little confusing for those who don't know that he refers to the same work. The performance by Aurore Bucher is not really convincing, I'm afraid. She seems to have a good feeling for theatrical music, but the intimacy of this chamber cantata is lost on her. Her singing is too loud, especially in relation to the recorder and is marred by an incessant and pretty wide vibrato.
That is also a problem in the two arias. The liner-notes are rather short on their identity. The work-list in New Grove
and the one on the site GFHandel.org
don't mention either of them. On the Karadar
site they are listed as "probably authentic". According to Toïgo Son d'Egitto
is an expression of "the intense inner torment of the heroine". We have to take his word for it; the omission of the lyrics in the booklet makes it impossible to assess this aria or Ms Bucher's treatment of the text. Non posso dir di più
seems a more intimate piece, and is performed with theorbo and cello. Ms Bucher sings at a lower volume, and that works out very well. Her vibrato is less obtrusive, and the balance between the voice and the instruments is better than in the cantata.
On balance this disc is rather inconsistent. It has various virtues but also some serious shortcomings. Handelians probably won't want to miss it because of the two arias which seem not to have been recorded before. For a more general audience this disc has little to offer which is not already available on disc.
Johan van Veen