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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
George Frideric HANDEL (1685 – 1759)
Between Heaven and Earth 
Arias and Duets

Sandrine Piau (soprano)
Accademia bizantina/Stefano Montanari (violin)
Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini
Originally issued as OP30483/4
NAVE NC40037 [77:00 + 72:00]

Handel’s music never ceases to fascinate me, in particular his vocal music. This pairing of two quite recent CDs at a reduced price is a convenient way of getting to know some seldom heard arias and duets – and a couple of well-known things in the bargain.

The first disc is devoted to arias from his oratorios and spans music from his very first attempt in the genre from his Italian years to one of the very last. This is inspired music and considering that he penned some seven hundred arias, many of them probably in a very short time, it is remarkable that he was able to keep up the standard so well. We start the traversal in Rome 1708 and an aria from La resurrezione. This is fast and energetic and the orchestral introduction makes a true flying start to the recital. The playing is great, the two trumpets do a terrific job and Sandrine Piau’s coloratura singing is amazing.

Forty-two years separate this aria from the next, a gloomy longing for death from Theodora. This was premiered in 1750 and was followed by only three more oratorios.

A Song for St Cecilia’s Day, to a text by John Dryden and written in 1739, is not an oratorio but an ode. The aria, which opens with a beautiful cello solo, is a wonderful homage to music, heavenly sung.

Then follows one of the really well-known items: Rejoice greatly from Messiah. It is presented here with heavily accented rhythms in the accompaniment that make it seem less hackneyed than I had expected.

In addition to the arias there are also three orchestral excerpts. The first of these is a largo from Theodora which serves well as an interlude before a longer scene from part III of Alexander Balus. It is Cleopatra who is singing here and Convey me to some peaceful shore (tr. 10) is particularly moving.

Prophetic raptures swell my breast from Joseph and his Brethren is one of many up-tempo Handel arias that impress both for their inventiveness and their sheer vitality. Naturally this also involves some riveting coloratura.

One of Handel’s most memorable melodies is to be found in the duet from L’allegro, il penseroso, ed il moderato. Here Sandrine Piau is joined by the sweet-voiced Topi Lehtipuu and Molly Marsh’s fresh oboe. The two singing voices entangle so beautifully.

The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Solomon is the second instrumental piece and this is a knockout reading with marvellous playing, again, by Molly Marsh and her oboe colleague Emiliano Rodolfi. Back then to L’allegro … and the longest item on the disc, the aria Sweet bird, which in effect is a duet for soprano and flute, the latter played by Marcello Gatti. His bird song is heavenly and Piau’s flutelike voice blends beautifully with the instrument. To hear her climbing higher and higher on the repeated phrase To behold the wand’ring moon is a real high-spot and overall this long scene is a real tour de force for all involved.

The Largo from Concerto grosso Op. 3 No. 2 has nothing to do with the oratorios, as far as I know, but it is beautiful and we get a further chance to hear Molly Marsh’s excellent oboe playing, this time together with the Accademia Bizantina’s two cellists, Marco Frezzato and Paolo Ballanti.

We heard the two trumpeters in the opening number. Here we meet Luca Marzana again in the virtuoso trumpet part of Let the bright seraphims from Samson. Sandrine Piau is just as brilliant in the vocal part.

For the finale we return to where we began, to Rome and Handel’s very first oratorio, Il trionfo del tempo s del disinganno from 1707, when he was just 22. After so many virtuoso arias the calm and beautiful Tu del Ciel ministro eletto with obbligato violin by Stefano Montanari is balm for the ears.

The recording is excellent, there are good liner notes and we get all the texts with translations. The only fly in the ointment is Sandrine Piau’s somewhat unidiomatic English pronunciation.

This is also a notable defect on the duet disc, where she sings opposite Sara Mingardo in six duets with three arias each. As on the oratorio disc there are also a couple of instrumental pieces: the fairly short overture to Poro opens the proceedings and the somewhat longer overture to Alessandro is inserted before the two arias with preceding recitatives from Act I of the opera. Handel rarely wrote any dull music and his overtures are splendid pieces that are just as attractive on their own. These two are no exception but it is the colourful one to Alessandro that is the real winner. It has real go.

Of the duets the one from Poro is very beautiful and the one from Radamisto is dramatic and lively. Tamerlano is generally regarded as one of Handel’s greatest operas. It was written during a period when the inspiration was on top. Three masterpieces were premiered within a year: Giulio Cesare on 20 February 1724, Tamerlano on 31 October 1724 and Rodelinda on 13 February 1725. The duet between Asteria and Andronico from the second act is marvellously beautiful with recorders, both in the introduction and throughout the duet conveying an ethereal quality. His first work for London was Rinaldo, premiered at Queen’s Theatre on 24 February 1711, and contains so much more first class music than the famous Lascia ch’io pianga. The duet between Almirena and Rinaldo for instance, Scherzano sul tuo volto, is Handel in swinging mood. Ottone, premiered just a year before Giulio Cesare is another work full of inspired music, which Teofane and Ottone’s duet A’ teneri affetti, the concluding number on this disc, shows with emphasis.

The arias are no less inspired. Flavio was the opera between Ottone and Giulio Cesare and Emilia’s aria M chi punir desio, sung with bravura and elegant embellishments by Sandrine Piau. Sara Mingardo is no less accomplished in Andronico’s aria from Tamerlano and she sings with full rounded tone. Ezio was nearly contemporaneous with Orlando - from the early 1730s - and Fulvia’s long aria Ah! Non son io che parlo is beautifully sung by Sandrine Piau.
From Alessandro we are vouchsafed two arias. Lisaura’s No, pi soffrir non voglio, fast, dramatic and virtuoso is a definite showstopper in the theatre, at least when sung with such lan as Piau does here. Alessandro’s Da un breve riposo, sung by Sara Mingardo, should also bring the house down. Finally we come to the relatively unknown Amadigi di Gaula, from which Sara Mingardo sings Pena tiranna, a sorrowful but very beautiful aria with obbligato bassoon. It is reminiscent of Lascia ch’io pianga, which probably isn’t that strange, since Handel tended to borrow from himself and this opera was premiered only four years after Rinaldo. Incidentally Amadigi di Gaula was the first opera Handel wrote for the King’s Theatre, where the next twenty-one operas also were premiered.

Production values are, as always with Nave, high and the repertoire is mostly unhackneyed, so this set should be a very attractive buy for all Handel aficionados.

Gran Forsling

Previous reviews: Jonathan Woolf (Between Heaven and Earth) ~~ John-Pierre Joyce (Arias and duets)

Track listing
CD 1
Between Heaven and Earth
La Resurrezione, HWV 47 (1708)
1. Aria Disserratevi, o porte d’Averno [4:36]
(Luca Marzana & Jonathan Pia, trumpets)
Theodora, HWV 68 (1750)
2. Recitative: O Thou bright Sun! [0:38]
3. Aria: With darkness deep as is my woe [3:35]
A Song for St Cecilia’s Day, HWV 76 (1739)
4. Aria: What passion cannot Music raise and quell’ [8:47]
(Marco Frezzato, cello)
Messiah, HWV 56 (1742)
5. Aria: Rejoice greatly [3:52]
Theodora, HWV 68
6. Largo [1:26]
Alexander Balus HWV 65 (1748)
7. Aria: O take me from this hateful light [4:37]
8. Recitative: Forgive, O queen [0:29]
9. Accompagnato: Calm thou my soul [0:44]
10. Aria: Convey me to some peaceful shore [2:48]
Joseph and his Brethren HWV 59 (1744)
11. Recitative: Art thou not Zaphnath? Is not Egypt sav’d? [0:29]
12. Aria: Prophetic raptures swell my breast [8:07]
L’allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato HWV 55 (1740)
13. Duet: As steals ther morn upon the night [6:11]
(Topi Lehtipuu, tenor, Molly Marsh, oboe, Alberto Guerra, bassoon)
Solomon, HWV 67 (1749)
14. Symphony (The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba) [2:49]
(Molly Mesh & Emiliano Rodolfi, oboes)
L’allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato HWV 55
15. Accompagnato: First and chief on golden wing [0:49]
16. Aria: Sweet bird [12:40]
(Marcello Gatti, flute)
Concerto grosso in b flat major Op. 3 No. 2, HWV 313 (c.1710)
17. Largo [2:40]
(Molly Marsh, oboe, Marco Frezzato & Paolo Ballanti, cellos)
Samson HWV 57 (1743)
18. Aria: Let the bright seraphims [5:10]
(Luca Marzana, trumpet)
Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno HWV 46a (1707)
19. Accompagnato: Pure del cielo [1:00]
20. Aria: Tu del Ciel ministro eletto [5:25]
(Stefano Montanari, violin)
rec. December 2008, church of San Girolamo, Bagnacavallo, Italy
Texts with English and French translations enclosed

CD 2
Arias and Duets
Poro, re delle Indie HWV 28
1. Overture [3:21]
2. Duet: Caro! Dolce! Amico amplesso [2:47]
Orlando HWV 31
3. Recitative [0:38]
4. Duet: Finch prendi ancora il sangue [3:07]
Radamisto HWV 12a
5. Recitative [0:42]
6. Duet: se teco vive il cor [3:16]
Flavio, re dei longobardi HWV 16
7. Recitative [0:42]
8. Aria* M chi punir desio [6:58]
Tamerlano HWV 18
9. Recitative [0:26]
10. Aria**Pi di una tigre altero [4:08]
11. Duet: Vivo in te [7:51]
Ezio HWV 29
12. Recitative [0:53]
13. Aria* Ah! Non son io che parlo [7:13]
Rinaldo HWV 7
14. Recitative [1:07]
15. Duet: Scherzano sui tuo volto [3:26]
Alessandro HWV 21
16. Overture [5:37]
17. Recitative [0:15]
18. Aria* No, pi soffrir non voglio [3:43]
19. Recitative [0:23]
20. Aria** Da un breve riposo [4:47]
Amadigi di gaula HWV 11
21. Recitative [0:32]
22. Aria** Pena tiranna [6:00]
Ottone, re di Germania HWV 15
23. Recitative [0:31]
24. Duet: A’ teneri affetti [3:55]
rec. Institut Pontifical de Musique Sacre, Rome, Italy. No date given.
Texts with French and Italian translations enclosed.