Alleluia, Handel!

C. Michael Bailey By

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George Frideric Handel (1685-1721) was born in Halle, Saxony to Georg and Dorothea Handel on February 23rd. He was christened the next day at Marktkirche , St Mark's Church in Halle. Saxon by birth, cosmopolitan by reputation and appeal, Handel stood the musical world on its ear during his career, prompting one critic to say,

Handel is the greatest composer who ever lived. I would bare my head and kneel at his grave.

That is pretty high praise from Beethoven.

It is often joked that Handel was a German who moved to England to write Italian operas. But that is a statement to his true international nature, one that is acknowledged even today. Inconsistent with this is for the past quarter century, Handel has been known primarily for a single work, Messiah . That is unfortunate, as he was the leading composer of opera in his day. It is fortunate, however, that his operas are being recorded more regularly by baroque experts, issuing in a new period of Renaissance for the composer. Here are three examples of Handel's arias coming to disc in the last year.

GF Handel
Renee Fleming, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Harry Bicket
(Decca 475 547)


Creamy and rich, Renee Fleming's voice may not come as the first suggestion for a Handelian soprano, but she makes a grand argument for herself on this aria recording. She is precise and emotive at fast tempi such as on "Scoglio D'immota Fronte" from Scipione or "Let the Bright Seraphim" from Samson. The slower pieces, such as "Quando Spieghi I Tuoi Tormenti" from Orlando and "Calm Thou My Soul..." from Alexander Balus showcase the lushness of her voice (to the chargrin of Handel purist) making an appropriate argument for her treatment of the material. The much maligned Harry Bicket proves to be quite the period scholar in leading the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. They are Baroque perfect in their support. This is a compelling release from a vocalist not typically associated with Handel.

Oh Sleep, Why Dost Thou Leave Me?; Endless Pleasure; Scoglio D'immota Fronte; Quando Spieghi I Tuoi Tormenti; Ombra Mai Fu; To Fleeting Pleasures Make Your Court; Lascia Ch'io Pianga; Dunque, I Lacci D'un Volto... Ah! Crudel; Let The Bright Seraphim; V'adoro, Pupille; Da Tempeste Il Legno Infranto; Ritorna, Oh Caro E Dolce Mio Tesoro; Sommo Rettor Del Cielo....D'una Torbida Sorgente; Pensieri, Voi Mi Tormentate; Bel Piacere E Godere Fido Amor!; Thou My Soul... Convey Me To Some Peaceful Shore.

GF Handel
Amor e gelosia-Handel Operatic Duets
Patrizia Ciofi and Joyce Di Donato, Il Complesso Barocco, Alan Curtis
(Virgin Veritas 45628)


Perhaps more Handelian than Miss Fleming, the soprano / mezzo-soprano pair of Patrizia Ciofi and Joyce Di Donato break from the pack of arias with a collection of Handel duets

. A collection like this would not have been considered a "greatist hits" package in Handel's time, when the publich wanted barn-burning soprano and castrato arias. Nevertheless, this duets collection illustrates Baroque vocals with the precise Baroque edge often associated with this period music. Ciofi and Di Donata share a vocal empathy that results in seamless vocal passages. Soprano and mezzo-soprano dissolve into one another in an aural eutectic that would have made il caro Sassone smile. "Caro Amico Amplesso!" from Poro sets the stage for the disc, illustrating vocal counterpoint of the singers. Alan Curtis leads the period assembly of Il Complesso Barocco in crisp accompaniment that compliments the vocalists.

Caro Amico Amplesso!; Scherzano Sul Tuo Volto; Non Ti Basto, Consorte/Io T'abbraccio; Mio Diletto, Che Pensi?/Sol Per Te, Bell'idol Mio; Per Le Porte Del Tormento; Del Destin Non MI Lagno/Caro, Tu M'accendi; Amarilli?/Amarilli? Oh Dei! Che Vuoi?; Vivo Senz'alma, O Bella; Finche Prendi; Perfidi! Ite Di Poro/Se Mai Piu Saro Geloso; Macedoni Guerrieri/Se Mai Turbo Il Tuo Riposo; Sinfonia To Act 3; Gran Pena E Gelosia!; Lode Agli Dei/Se Mai Turbo Il Tuo Riposo; Alma Mia, Dolce Ristoro; Ricordati, Mio Ben; Addio, Mio Caro Bene.

GF Haendel
Opera Seria
Sandrine Piau, Soprano, Les Talens Lyriques, Christopher Rousset
(Naïve 8894)


Leave it to the French to produce near perfect Handel. Soprano Sandrine Piau meets again with Christophe Rousset for a collection of Handel's Opera Seria, arias and songs not often removed from the operas for solo recitals. The results are perfectly crystallized Handel singing couples with equally crystalline period performance by Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques. Sandrine Piau has a well-balanced soprano voice with a significant capacity for coloratura. Her expressiveness of want is palpable on "Ombre piante, une funeste" from Rodelinda as is her love in Orlando's "Verdi piante, erbette liete." Piau's Clotilde from Faramondo is blown by two winds in "Combattuta da due venti" and we as listeners are buffeted with her. The singer and orchestra are perfectly one in this superb Handel recital.

Scipione (1726) Aria: Scoglio d'immota fronte (Act II, Scene 8); Orlando (1733) Aria: Verdi piante, erbette liete (Act II, scene 8); Giulio Cesare in Egitto (1724) Recitativo accompagnato: Che sento? oh Dio!; Giulio Cesare in Egitto (1724) Aria: Se pietà (Act II, scene 8); Partenope (1730) 5 Aria: L'amor ed il destin (Act I, scene 3); Amadigi (1715); Aria: Ah spietato (Act I, scene 4); Alessandro (1726) Aria: Brilla nell' alma un non inteso ancor (Act III, scene 3); Rodelinda (1725) Aria: Ombre piante, une funeste (Act I, scene 7); Faramondo (1738) Aria: Combattuta da due venti (Act II, scene 8); Tamerlano (1724); Aria: Cor di padre (Act III, scene 1); Deidamia (1741); Aria: M'ai resa infelice (Act III, scene 2); Arianna in Creta (1734) Aria: Son qual stanco pelligrino (Act II, scene 12).


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