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In War and Peace
Joyce DiDonato (mezzo)
Il Pomo d'Oro/Maxim Emelyanychev
rec. 13-20 March 2016 Gustav Mahler Hall, Kulturzentrum, Grand Hotel Toblach, Italy
Full sung texts and translations provided in English, Italian, French, German
ERATO 9029 592846 [79.12]

Suppose you want to make an award-winning CD. What do you need?

1. A good recording studio, why not in Toblach, Italy.
2. A first-class orchestra, try Il Pomo d’Oro.
3. Thrilling baroque arias, preferably written by Handel and Purcell.
4. Some never before recorded arias, to entice the curious.
5. Joyce diDonato.

VoilÓ ... It’s in the bag. Not that I have ever heard of Grand Hotel Toblach as a recording venue, but the sound is excellent and the members of Il Pomo d’Oro must have been inspired by the beauty of nature up in South Tyrol and the knowledge that not far from Toblach Gustav Mahler composed his Ninth Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde in a little log cabin. They – Il Pomo d’Oro – play with a precision and intensity that is wholly ravishing. As for the repertoire – some of it well-known, some of it completely unknown – it is absolutely engrossing. Joyce diDonato is – as usual – phenomenal.

We begin with some arias depicting war:

The aria from Jephtha is a veritable knock-out start: powerful, dramatic, sung with overwhelming intensity and expressive phrasing. Leo’s Prendi quel ferro from Andromaca is the first of the premiere recordings. One wonders why it hasn’t been recorded before. This is an impressive composition, expressing contrasting feelings and the orchestral writing is superb. Sesto’s Svegliatevi from Giulio Cesare is well-known and the singing leaves the listener breathless. Orazia’s They tell us that you mighty powers above from The Indian Queen is a resting point, restrained and beautiful. Agrippina is early Handel, written for the carnival season in Venice. He was only 24 but already a master. Here the soloist keeps company with a solo oboe, excellently played by Magdalena Karolak. Dido’s lament from Dido and Aeneas is inward but intense. This is marvellous singing. In Almirena’s Lascia ch’io pianga from Rinaldo – Handel’s first opera for London - every phrase, every tone is so alive, so charged with hushed energy. In the reprise diDonato adds some tasteful embellishments.

After this beloved aria we change from war to peace:

Bonduca was Purcell’s last major work and the aria Oh! Lead me to some peaceful gloom, which I can’t remember hearing before, confirms that Purcell was a melodic genius. Back to Rinaldo we meet Almirena again in a dialogue with the singing birds. Here the sopranino recorder, skilfully played by Anna Fusek, is a worthy dialogue partner. Jommelli is a composer rarely encountered and the two arias from Attilo Regolo, to a libretto by Metastasio, are superb music in every respect. Just as superb is diDonato’s singing. The arias with lots of coloratura and trills call for a virtuoso and that’s what they get. Incidentally I have an all-Jommelli disc due for review within a couple of weeks. It is encouraging to see that long-forgotten composers are being resurrected and found worthy of a renaissance.

An aria proper from Handel’s Susanna opens Crystal streams in murmurs flowing and Handel, one of the great tone-painters in the history of music, lets us hear the murmuring in the background. It is nice to hear something from Monteverdi’s “forgotten” opera Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, which contains a lot of marvellous music, for instance Penelope’s Illustratevi, o cieli.

Cleopatra’s virtuoso last aria from Giulio Cesare is a suitable finale to this engrossing recital. The text says, in translation:

When the ship battered by a tempest
Finally sails safely into port,
It can wish for nothing else.

Thus when a heart finds solace,
Having endured pain and sorrow,
Happiness is restored to the soul.

The year 2017 has hardly begun but I’m pretty sure that this will be one of my recordings of the year when we reach December. No lover of baroque opera – or more precisely, no lover of great singing can afford to be without this disc.

G÷ran Forsling

Previous reviews: Michael Cookson ~ Brian Wilson (Recording of the Month)

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
1. Jeptha (1752): ‘Scenes of Horror, scenes of woe’ (StorgŔ) [5.13]
Leonardo LEO (1694-1744)
2. Andromeda (1742): ‘Prendi quel ferro, o barbaro!’ (Andromaca) [7.16]
world premiere recording
George Frideric HANDEL
3. Giulio Cesare (1724): ‘Vani sono i lamenti … Svegliatevi nel core’ (Sesto) [4.47]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
4. The Indian Queen (1695): ‘They tell us that you mighty powers above’ (Orazia) [4.05]
George Frideric HANDEL
5. Agrippina (1709): ‘Pensieri, voi mi tormentate’ (Agrippina) [6.44]
6. Dido and Aeneas (1689): ‘Thy hand, Belinda … When I am laid in earth’ (Dido) [5.03]
George Frideric HANDEL
7. Rinaldo (1711): ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ (Almirena) [5.32]
8. Bonduca or the British Heroine (1695): ‘Oh! Lead me to some peaceful gloom’ (Bonvica) [3.15]
George Frideric HANDEL
9. Rinaldo (1711): ‘Augelletti che cantate’ (Almirena) [5.36]
Niccol˛ JOMMELLI (1714-1774).
10. Attilio Regolo (1753): ‘Sprezza il furor del vento’ (Attila) [7.13]
world premiere recording
11. The Indian Queen (1695): ‘Why should men quarrel?’ (A Girl) [1.31]
12. Attilio Regolo (1753): ‘Par che di Giubilo’ (Attilio Regolo) [6.09]
world premiere recording
George Frideric HANDEL
13. Susanna (1749): ‘Lead me, oh lead me to some cool retreat … Crystal streams in murmurs flowing’ (Susanna) [8.21]
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
14. Il ritorno di Ulisse in patria (1639/40): ‘Illustratevi, o cieli’ (Penelope) [2.20]
George Frideric HANDEL
15. Giulio Cesare (1724): ‘Da tempeste il legno infranto’ (Cleopatra) [6.02]

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