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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Royal Handel
Eva Zaïcik (mezzo)
Le Consort
rec. June 2020, Temple du Saint Esprit, Paris. DDD.
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as 24/96 press preview
ALPHA 662 [64:59]

The original Royal Academy of Music was set up 300 years ago with the intention of making London the musical capital of Europe, with Italian opera its speciality. Originally Bononcini and Ariosti were the star composers, but by 1723 Handel was beginning to eclipse them. Both of Handel’s rivals are represented on this album, but, consisting mainly of music by the master, it both serves to clarify their similarities of style, and allows Handel to emerge as first among equals – a clear first, rather than the outright winner we might imagine.

Eva Zaïcik and Le Consort have already given us a very fine recital for Alpha (Venez chère ombre Alpha439), which I referred to in my review of the consort’s recording of music by Dandrieu and Corelli (Alpha542). My only reservation was that you might find a whole album of solo mezzo singing a little too much to take in one go; the same applies to the new CD.

This is by no means the only time that the three composers, Handel, Ariosti and Bononcini, and their compositions for the Royal Academy have been brought together. Lawrence Zazzo (counter-tenor) with La Nuova Musica and David Bates recorded a collection entitled A Royal Trio (Harmonia Mundi – review 2014/14). Inevitably, there is some overlap between the two, but so little that there is no need for a rivalry between them, such as supposedly existed between Handel and Bononcini (the Whigs and Tories even took sides), famously parodied as ‘Tweedledum and Tweedledee’. If it helps you to choose, there’s slightly more familiar material on the Harmonia Mundi, but you may have more recordings of the unbiquitous Va tacito from Giulio Cesare than you really want.  The new Alpha recording contains some world premieres.

In fact, there’s very little to choose between the two recordings; with mostly different music, they are complementary. Neither Zaïcik nor Zazzo sounds the least plummy. Zaïcik in particular has a light mezzo voice, with a very impressive vocal range, but both are well worth hearing, and both recitals cover a wide range of emotions.

Glyn Pursglove singled out Zazzo’s performance of Rompo i lacci, and that, the one overlapping item, opens the new Alpha recording. He calls that ‘full of swaggering energy at first and developing plaintively with some ravishing vocal colours’, and his words apply equally to Zaïcik’s equally fine, slightly faster, performance. Slightly faster, but never hurried.

At the risk of seeming even more unhelpful in making a choice, the new recording reminds me of another rivalry in which Handel was involved, that between his singers; the competition between them underlies a superb Hyperion recording, Rival Queens, on which Emma Kirkby and Catherine Bott, with the Orlando Consort, engage in friendly competition. The original single CD is now Archive Service only, but it can be downloaded in lossless sound, with pdf booklet, from hyperion-records.co.uk. It’s much better value, however, as part of the 3-CD set CDS44271/3 (Bargain of the Month – review), just £15 to download from hyperion-records.co.uk; again, the CDs are more expensive as CDRs from the Archive Service.

If you don’t have the Hyperion set, and can afford only one of the recordings mentioned here, go for the Hyperion and come back for the other two later – but do come back for both of them. Regular readers will know that my admiration for Emma Kirkby knows no bounds, with Catherine Bott not far behind, so it’s high praise that I mention Zaïcik and Zazzo as worthy of comparison.

If any of these recitals tempts the cautious listener to sample a complete Handel opera – too many to recommend but Giulio Cesare in Egitto would be a good place to start – so much the better. I know that the transition from recitals to complete operas, or even highlights, can be daunting, but it’s well worth making. Seeing, as well as hearing, might be the best way to start – there’s Sarah Connolly and Danielle de Niese in Giulio Cesare on DVD (OA0950D – review) and blu-ray (OABD7042D) or Andreas Scholl (Harmonia Mundi DVD: Recording of the Month – review) – or, if Italian is the problem, Janet Baker with the ENO in English on a 3-CD Chandos set (CHAN3019, highlights on CHAN3072). (Having seen the Connolly version on Sky Arts since I reviewed the Scholl, I’m torn between them.)

The Harmonia Mundi comes on SACD – one of the last which the label released – but I reviewed it in equivalent hi-def sound as a 24-bit download. There’s no SACD equivalent for the Alpha, but the 24-bit download, like the Harmonia Mundi, is very good. The booklet, on the other hand, though perfectly adequate, is outshone by the Harmonia Mundi, and both by the Hyperion documentation.

The new recording joins a select list of solo Handel recitals.

Brian Wilson

Contents
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Flavio, Re de’ Longobardi, HWV16 (London, 1723): Aria - Rompo i Lacci, e frango i Dardi (Guido) [4:56]
Attilio ARIOSTI (1666-1729)
Caio Marzio Coriolano (London, 1723): Aria - Sagri Numi (Vetturia) * [8:23]
George Frideric HANDEL
Admeto, Re di Tessaglia, HWV22 (London, 1727): Aria - Gelosia, Spietata Aletto (Alceste) [4:35]
Siroe, Re di Persia, HWV24 (London, 1728): Recitativo - Son Stanco (Siroe) [1:26]
Aria - Deggio morire, O Stelle (Siroe) [6:54]
Tolomeo, Re d’Egitto, HWV25 (London, 1728): Recitativo - Inumano Fratel (Tolomeo) [1:24]
Aria - Stille Amare (Tolomeo) [5:04]
Floridante, HWV14 (London, 1721): Aria - Ma pria vedrò le Stelle (Elmira) [3:42]
Giulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV17 (London, 1724): Aria - L’aure che spira (Sesto) [4:30]
Ottone, Re di Germania, HWV15 (London, 1723): Aria - Ah! Tu non sai (Matilda) [6:07]
Attilio ARIOSTI
Caio Marzio Coriolano (London, 1723): Aria - E’ pur il gran Piacer (Vetturia) * [3:32]
Giovanni BONONCINI (1670-1747)
Crispo: Aria - Strazio, Scempio, Furia e Morte (Amulio) * [1:48]
George Frideric HANDEL
Radamisto, HWV12 (London, 1720): Aria - Ombra cara (Radamisto) [8:28]
Riccardo Primo, Re d’Inghilterra, HWV23 (London, 1724): Aria - Agitato da fiere Tempeste (Riccardo) [4:00]
*World premiere recording



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