George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759)
Avery Amereau (contralto)
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra / Nicholas McGegan.
rec. 2019, Scoring Stage, Skywalker Sound, Nicasio, USA.
All sung texts and English translations included.
PHILHARMONIA PBP-13 [76:09]
I have known the name of Avery Amereau for a while now, but this is the first chance I have had to hear her sing. I think I first heard her name in 2016 when a friend who usually gets more excited about paintings than about singers, came back from a trip to New York enthusing (I am tempted to say ‘raving’) about Ms. Amereau. She had heard her as a Madrigal Singer in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Metropolitan Opera (given that the cast was doubtless full of bigger names, I thought it remarkable that Amereau should have made quite such an impression in a minor role). Since then I have seen Amereau praised for her interpretations of roles such as Cherubino, in Geneva, and Eduige (Rodalinda) in Lyon. This CD makes clear why she has attracted such attention and praise.
Listening to Amereau’s voice, words like velvet and polished gold came to mind. But the beauty of her voice is never an end in itself; she sings, as any significant singer must, with profound attention to the words too. Clarity of diction, on this evidence, seems never to be sacrificed to vocal body or grace (both of which she has in abundance). This album of operatic arias (plus one from the dramatic cantata Aci, Galatea e Polifemo) by Handel is arranged chronologically. That has a logic to it, though I also wonder whether an arrangement by what one might call emotional or stylistic variety might not also have been thought logical. Still, I have no wish to complain. Most of us can, after all, choose to listen either to a specific track alone or to reprogramme the running order of the disc.
Ms. Amereau can show off with the best of them when the score invites her to – as in the opening track, Galatea’s aria ‘Benché tuoni’ from Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, full of extravagant coloratura, as Galatea confronts the monstrous Polifemo. Given the force, agility and power of
Amereau’s interpretation of this aria, one wouldn’t give much for the chances of any cyclops trying to stand up to her! But
Amereau is just as impressive in the intimate plea for pity of ‘Sussurate, onde vezzose’ (from Amadigi) as she in the vehemence and fearlessness of ‘Benché tuoni’; in each case she creates believable character psychology within a few bars.
She can use the darkness and weight of her voice for the effective expression of emotion, as in ‘O rendeteni il mio bene’ (also from Amadigi) which is profoundly moving in its expression of pain. If I had listened first to this aria or to ‘Voi che udite il mil lamento’, I would have had serious doubts as to whether this was a singer who would be able to meet the very different demands of ‘Benché tuoni e l’etra avvampi’. But Amereau takes all three arias in her stride, without the slightest sign of difficulty or strain.
One of the particular delights of this excellent disc is the beauty with which voice and orchestra interact. So, in ‘Or la tromba in son festante’, the balance between voice and orchestra, particularly the trumpets, is perfectly judged and one can almost hear Amereau enjoying the echoic passages (I certainly enjoyed them!). In ‘Con tromba guerriera’, which closes Act I of Silla, she demonstrates the military determination of Claudio perfectly, as she stands up successfully to the challenges set for her by the trumpet. This is exciting stuff! But if it is Handelian tenderness that is wanted, one has only to turn to ‘Senti, bell’idol mio’. Amereau, it seems, really can do it all.
I could continue listing the delights of this album, but I suspect I would probably finish up listing every track. I can’t, however, resist a mention of ‘Verdi prati’ (from Alcina), where Ms. Amereau’s voice and the strings of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra hold on beautifully to the deceptive ‘paradise’ created by Alcina. Paradise is, as it were, musically ‘retained’ even as the sung text forecasts “Verdi prati, selve amene,/perderete la beltà.” (Green meadows, pleasant woods, You shall lose your beauty). Alcina’s evil magic may have been defeated, but Handel’s good magic continues.
This is an album which any much more established and experienced artist would be proud of. As a debut solo album it is remarkable. It gets the well-balanced recorded sound that it deserves. It also deserves the excellent documentation which accompanies it. All the texts are provided along with good translations by Peter Lockwood. Bruce Lamott (Scholar-in-Residence, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale) provides genuinely useful notes (in English only) on each of the arias.
‘Benché tuoni e l’etra avvampi’, from Aci, Galatea e Polifemo (1708) [3:25]
‘Otton, qual portentoso fulmine è questi’, from Agrippina (1709-10) [1:20]
‘Voi che udite il mil lamento’, from Agrippina [6:34]
‘Cara sposa, amante cara’, from Rinaldo (1711) [8:55]
‘Venti, turbini’, from Rinaldo [4:01]
‘Or la tromba in son festante’, from Rinaldo [4:00]
‘Senti, bell’idol mio’, from Silla (c.1713) [6:06]
‘Con tromba guerriera’, from Silla [4:50]
‘È si dolce il mio contento’, from Amadigi di Gaula (1715) [3:24]
‘O rendeteni il mio bene’, from Amadigi di Gaula [6:31]
‘Susurrate, onde vezzose’, from Amadigi di Gaula [7:47]
‘Già che morir non posso’, from Radamisto (1720) [4:14]
‘Priva son d’ogni conforto’, from Giulio Cesare in Egitto (1724) [6:07]
‘Dall’ondoso periglio…Aure deh per pietà’, from Giulio Cesare in Egitto (1724) [8:43]
‘Verdi prati’, from Alcina (1735) [4:24]