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George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759): "Solo Cantatas"

Marianne Beata Kielland, mezzo-soprano
Bergen Barokk

rec: March 8 - 10, 2010, Wuppertal, Immanuelskirche
Ars Produktion - ARS 38 087 (© 2009) (63'07")

Clori, degli occhi miei (HWV 91a); Ho fuggito amore (HWV 118); Lungi da me, pensier tiranno! (HWV 125b); Nel dolce tempo (HWV 135b); Qualor crudele (HWV 151); Stanco degli occhi miei (HWV 167a)

Markku Luolajan-Mikkola, cello; Thomas C. Boysen, theorbo; Hans Knut Sveen, harpsichord

In its dramatic character and its form of a sequence of recitatives and arias the chamber cantata of the baroque era is very close to the opera. Therefore it is no wonder that many composers of operas also contributed to the genre of the chamber cantata. And like the main roles in operas were written for sopranos or altos - often sung by castratos - most chamber cantatas are scored for a soprano or alto voice. Considering these things it is odd that the cantatas of Handel get far less attention than his operas. If singers want to shine with a disc of Handel arias they usually choose arias from his operas - and sometimes his oratorios - but mostly overlook his chamber cantatas. That is hard to understand as the musical quality isn't inferior in any way to the operas.

The Norwegian mezzo-soprano Marianne Beate Kielland is a versatily singer with a repertoire which goes from the early baroque to contemporary music. She often participates in performances of baroque operas, and her experience in this field has left its marks in her interpretation of six cantatas by Handel.

Handel became acquainted with the genre of the chamber cantata during his stay in Italy and soon started to compose cantatas of his own. A considerable number have been written between 1707 and 1710. But when he returned from Italy his production of cantatas didn't stop: between 1718 and 1728 he again wrote a large number of cantatas. Some exist in two versions, one for soprano and one for alto. It isn't always clear which came first, but in the case of the cantatas which have been recorded here, the version for alto seems to be the oldest. The authors of the texts are not always known. The form is generally the same: recitative - aria - recitative - aria. Lungi da me, pensier tiranno! is different in that it has an additional pair of recitative and aria. And the disc opens with Ho fuggito amore, which has only one recitative which is embraced by two arias. This cantata is the only work on this disc which has been written in England, and this was the form of most cantatas from Handel's years in England.

These cantatas contain many passages of evocative text expression, and Marianne Beate Kielland brings them out well. The recitatives are often the most dramatic part, and their interpretation largely makes or breaks a performance of this repertoire. I am quite impressed with the way Ms Kielland sings them. The rhythmic freedom composers expected performers to take is explored here to the full. It is the text which dictates the rhythm, and here Ms Kielland and Bergen Barokk are at the same wavelength. The theatrical interpretation of the recitatives is enabled by Ms Kielland's excellent diction and the wide range of her voice. Although she is labelled a mezzo-soprano, her low register is quite strong, and that is very helpful in the recitatives.

But it also serves her well in those arias where the voice goes up and down in depicting the text. The aria 'Nel pensar che sei l'oggetto' from Qualor crudele is a good example. ms Kielland doesn't miss the opportunities to single out elements in the text, for instance "mai che poi?" (but what then?) in the opening aria of Ho fuggito amore, which is emphasized with dynamic means. It is not only the dramatic arias which come off well: the lyricism of 'Tirsi amato, adorato mio Nume' (Lungi da me, pensier tiranno!) is beautifully sung. Ms Kielland shows her good breath control in the long melismas on "vogliando" (waking) in 'Era in sogno almen contento' (Stanco di pił soffrire).

I have thoroughly enjoyed this disc: the cantatas are great stuff, and the performances by Marianne Beate Kielland and Bergen Barokk are excellent. Ms Kielland has written the programme notes herself, with much useful information about the style and content of the cantatas. The booklet includes the lyrics with English translations. The lack of track numbers in the libretto is not very user-friendly.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Marianne Beate Kielland
Bergen Barokk

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