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Jonathan Woolf
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Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Rinaldo (1711)
Goffredo – Lawrence Zazzo (counter-tenor)
Almirena – Miah Persson (soprano)
Rinaldo – Vivica Genaux (mezzo-soprano)
Eustazio – Christophe Dumaux (counter-tenor)
Argante – James Rutherford (baritone)
Armida – Inga Kalna (soprano)
Mago – Domique Visse (counter-tenor)
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/René Jacobs
No libretto
rec. August 2002, Congress Innsbruck
HARMONIA MUNDI HMY2921796-98 [3 CDs: 67:20 + 74:54 + 50:34]

René Jacobs directed this recording of Rinaldo in 2002 and it reappears, without libretto but with notes, in a slim box. There had been trial-run live performances so the production was ready to be recorded, ensuring that its best qualities - and perhaps also its most distracting ones - are evident throughout.

The orchestra, the Freiburg Baroque, is on incisive form though there are moments when they could be a bit more disciplined. As early as the overture one can hear stray inner voices. Also, there’s the question of Jacobs’ direction which can be ebullient to the point of attention-seeking. There’s an unnecessary floridity sometimes that goes beyond the appropriately theatrical – and this applies equally to some of his direction of the accompanying instrumental passages.

The cast lines up with three counter-tenors, a baritone, two sopranos and a mezzo. They prove to be a varied ensemble. Lawrence Zazzo was near the start of his career, and I’ve always enjoyed his singing with its contralto moments in Sovre balze. As Armida, Inga Kalna proves molten, her divisions in Furie terribili often thrilling and her highest register scorching in its attack. There seems to be authority for what is, in effect, an interpolated harpsichord solo in Armida’s Vo’ far Guerra, though it sounds mighty odd here. The title role is taken by Vivica Genaux and she strongly divided opinion on the first release of this set. Certainly, Cara sposa, one of the opera’s high points, disappoints somewhat, lacking breadth of tone and a misplaced trill. Elsewhere she is significantly more impressive but the impression she leaves is mixed. In Venti turbini, she is good but I don’t like the over-emphatic way Jacobs deals with the B section which is punched out via an intrusive harpsichord leading toward the da capo. Miah Persson, as Almirena, has another of the standout arias, Laschia ch’io pianga. She is a fine singer and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the tempo, albeit there’s a touch of phrasal distension. There’s also a degree of awkwardness about it, and there’s surely far too much ornamentation in the da capo.

Eustazio is sung by Christophe Dumaux, a counter-tenor with a rather baritonal chest voice. The third of their number – and they are all very different timbrally and make a fine trio – is Dominique Viss. James Rutherford’s baritone is solid, and his interpretation lively.

Some of the pacing of the recitatives is questionable. I find that for Act II Scene I erratic – Qual incognita forza sounds especially leaden made all the more so by the way Jacobs suddenly speeds up. One senses he is trying to bring a real degree of theatrical verisimilitude and sheer instability to the recording, but the medium of recorded music is often unsympathetic. It ends up sounding eccentric, or didactic, depending on the circumstances. There is an interpolation in the early scenes of Act III – a Preludio for harpsichord by William Babell - that adds to the kinks and quirks enshrined in this set.

There are other available sets, and good though this one can be, for a kink-free recording you’d be better off with Christopher Hogwood with Cecilia Bartoli and David Daniels.

Jonathan Woolf