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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Italian Cantatas (ed. Robert King)
Dietro l’orme fugaci, HWV105 ‘Armida abbandonata’ (c. 1708/09) [18:59]
Tra le fiamme, HWV170 (1707/08) [18:06]
Figlio d’alte speranze, HWV113 (1706/07) [13:26]
Agrippina condotta a morire, (1707/08) HWV110 [24:20]
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), The King’s Consort / Robert King
rec. 2018, Alpheton New Maltings, Suffolk, UK
Pitch A = 415 Hz
Texts and translations included
VIVAT 117 [74:51]

Carolyn Sampson remains one of the UK’s finest singers; she has recorded Handel successfully for BIS and Vivat, and this most recent Vivat release is a clear winner. The sadness of the aria “Ah! Crudele” from Armida abbandonata HWV105 is remarkable. The heartbreak of a woman attempting, unsuccessfully, to leave behind the love that has abandoned her, is palpable; the accompaniment from the King’s Consort lavishes infinite care on every nuance. Handel’s Italian cantatas (those we have, at any rate: we know he composed more that are currently extant). Sampson’s sense of drama and attunement to her character is remarkable; the recording supports the balance between voice and instruments perfectly, with King finding huge amounts of detail as well as fully recognizing the Affektenlehre aspect of this music (think of the sighing violin gestures in the final aria, “In tanti affanni miei”).

The cantata Tra le fiamme centres on the myth of Icarus. Sampson’s decorations of line in the opening aria include perfect trills, anticipating Handel’s extensive use of them in the instrumental parts of the central part of this da capo aria. Her legato, too, matches any instrument who dares to double her. The sense of joy of spreading wings in the aria “Pien di nuovo e bel diletto” is all the more effective through Handel’s economy of means, heard through the freedom of Sampson’s voice. Rachel Chaplin, playing a copy of a c.1730 Thomas Stanesby oboe, injects a beautifully pungent aspect to the unison violin lines, while Rebecca Miles’ alto recorder in G (a copy of an instrument of c.1720) delights.

The third offering is Figlio d’alte speranze, a piece with an intriguing basis. The protagonist journeys from riches to rags and back again, Handel’s walking basses depicting the sense of forward movement. Kati Deretzeni’s violin obbligato is superbly rendered on her anonymously made violin (Naples, c. 1760); she becomes, effectively, a second vocal line intertwining and interacting with Sampson’s plangent eloquence. Robin Michael, playing on a 2010 copy of a 1696 Matteo Goffriller cello, is brilliant in his agility and emotion as the second “voice” in the aria “Sia guida”, while both violins and voice excel in their extended semiquavers (melismas for Sampson) in the final aria “Brillava protetto”.

Finally, comes Agrippina condotta a morire, inspired by the ruthless, scheming Roman empress Agrippina. Fury, resentment and loathing are but three of the visceral emotions on display here; Carolyn Sampson is magnificent, raw in “Rendo cenere il tiranno,” infinitely touching in “Come, O Dio!” where her plangent vibratoless sustained notes speak volumes. It is fascinating, too, how the apparent simplicity of textures of “Se infelice al mondo visi” projects a world of emotions. Samson’s breathless way with the brief aria “Su lacerate” is brilliantly exciting; Handel’s closing gesture to the cantata, a recitative, is a stroke of genius.

Th excellent documentation includes a full instrumentarium of the authentic instruments so expertly deployed here by The King’s Consort. Recorded in the frankly world-class new recording venue, Alpheton New Maltings, this is a prime release.

Those interested in Baroque solo cantatas, incidentally, could do worse than investigate another recent release, Cantatas for Bass by Antonio Caldara (1670-1736) performed by Sergio Foresti with Stile Galante under Stefano Aresi on the Pan Classics label.

Colin Clarke

Previous review: Brian Wilson

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