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"London Calling! - Handel and his contemporaries"

Tuva Semmingsen, mezzo-sopranoa
Dir: Bjarte Eike

rec: Sept 2010, Copenhagen, Kastelskirken
BIS - SACD-1997 (© 2012) (76'15")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713): Concerto grosso in D, op. 6,4 [1]; Francesco GEMINIANI (1687-1762): Concerto grosso after Corelli No 12 in d minor 'Follia' [2]; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Amadigi di Gaula (HWV 11) (O rendetemi il mio bene, ariaa; Sento la gioia, ariaabc; sinfonia act 1; sinfonia act 3c; T'amai, quant'il mio cor, ariaa; Vado, corro al mio tesoro, ariaa); Hercules (HWV 60) (sinfonia act 3; Where shall I fly?, rec acca); Theodora (HWV 68) (As with rosy steps, aira); Francesco Maria VERACINI (1690-1768): Sonata for violin and bc in A, op. 2,9d [3]

Sources: [1] Arcangelo Corelli, Concerti grossi op. 6, 1714; [2] Francesco Geminiani, Concerti grossi ... della seconda parte del op. 5 d'Arcangelo Corelli, 1729; [3] Francesco Maria Veracini, Sonate accademiche, op. 2, 1744

Per Bengtsson, oboeb; Pierre Torwald, trumpetc; Bjarte Eike [solo d], Albrecht Kühner, Jens Solgaard, Milos Valent, Per Buhre, Hanna Ydmark, violin; Rastko Roknic, Vappo Helasvuo, viola; Thomas Pitt, Judith-Maria Blomsterberg, cello; Mattias Frostenson, violone; Fredrik Bock, theorbo, guitar; Hans Knut Sveen, Allan Rasmussen, harpsichord

The subject of this disc is not all that original. Over the years many recordings have been devoted to the popularity of Italian music and the presence of Italian composers and performing musicians in England in the early 18th century. Only recently I reviewed a disc by the ensemble L'Avventura London and earlier a disc by the Italian ensemble Il Falcone. Their respective programmes were much more adventurous than what is on offer here. "This recording unveils a portrait of the chameleon Handel, his music and the music and musicians he brought or attracted from the high baroque in Rome, and especially the master musician himself, Corelli, his devoted protégé Geminiani and the maverick virtuoso, Veracini", Malcolm Bruno writes in the liner-notes. This could easily create some misunderstandings. Corelli never set a foot on English soil and the presence of Geminiani and Veracini in London was not due to any initiative by Handel. Moreover, Veracini was not from Rome; he probably never performed there. It is also not quite correct to call Geminiani Corelli's protégé or even his pupil. Geminiani claimed to be Corelli's pupil but there is no firm documentary evidence for it. He greatly admired him, and as Corelli's music was particularly popular in England it was logical and profitable to present himself as such.

The great appreciation of Corelli's music in England justifies the inclusion one of his concerti grossi. The Concerto grosso in D, op. 6,4 is given a good performance by Barokksolistene, with Bjarte Eike and Milos Valent (violin), Judith-Maria Blomsterberg (cello) and Allan Rasmussen (harpsichord) playing the concertino. There is some nice ornamentation in the violin parts, especially in the adagio. Geminiani's admiration for Corelli inspired him to adapt the latter's sonatas for violin and bc op. 5 as concerti grossi. These have not exactly escaped the attention of modern performers, but unfortunately it is mostly the 12th concerto from this set, an arrangement of the variations on La Follia, which is played. That is also the case here. As good as the performance is, this disc would have been of more interest if another of these concerti grossi had been selected.

The disc of the ensemble Il Falcone which I mentioned above paid attention to the influence of traditional music on composers who were active in London, including those of Italian origin. Scottish songs were especially popular, and the Italian violin virtuoso Veracini also exploited their popularity by including the ballad tune Tweed's Side in his Sonata in A, op. 2,9, from his collection of 12 sonatas which were published in 1744 in London and Florence under the title Sonate Accademiche. It appears in the last movement under the title Scozzese, in three sections of contrasting tempi. Bjarte Eike gives an immaculate and musically convincing performance, supported by cello, theorbo and harpsichord.

The core of this disc is Handel, the most dominant immigrant from the European mainland. The selection of four arias and two sinfonias from Amadigi di Gaula is understandable. This opera was first performed in 1715 in the King's Theatre at Haymarket. The four arias are very different in character; unfortunately not all of them seem to suit Tuva Semmingsen's voice. 'T'amai, quant'il mio cor' comes off well, with the first lines sung in a nicely relaxed manner, and with a good contrast between the various sections of the aria. 'Vado, corro al mio tesore' is considerably more dramatic. Ms Semmingsen's voice lacks the power and passion to fully express the aria's content. At the end of the programme we return to the same opera. The rather intimate 'O rendetemi il mio bene' is done rather well. According to the liner-notes the last aria, 'Sento la gioia', is "jubilant", but the performance is too subdued. Ms Semmingsen's voice is just not powerful enough.

This also damages the dramatic accompanied recitative of Dejanira, 'Where shall I fly?', from the oratorio Hercules. Much better is 'As with rosy steps' from Theodora. Here Handel illustrates the text - "As with rosy steps the morn, advancing, drives the shades of night" - with rising figures. Ms Semmingsen and Barokksolistene emphasize this through an effective crescendo. The selection of arias from two oratorios on English text is somewhat odd, considering the subject of this disc. These two works date from a time when the 'Italomania' had passed its zenith.

This disc is not exactly what I had hoped. The programming isn't that inmaginative and the performances of the vocal items are not an unqualified success.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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