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George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759): "Complete Cantatas Vol. 4"

Stefanie Truea, Klaartje van Veldhovenb, soprano
Contrasto Armonico
Dir: Marco Vitale

rec: April 2010, Delft, Oud-Katholieke Kerk
Brilliant Classics - 94257 (© 2011) (50'29")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list

Clori, mia bella Clori (HWV 92)a; Clori, vezzosa Clori (HWV 95)a; Lungi n'andň Fileno (HWV 128)a; Pensieri notturni di Filli (Nel dolce dell'oblio) (HWV 134)b; Sans y penser (Cantate française)ab

Nico Chaves, recorder; Joanna Huszcza, Enrique Gómez-Cabrero Fernández, James Hewitt, violin; Marta Semkiw, cello; Marco Vitale, harpsichord

Handel's oeuvre comprises a large number of chamber cantatas. These are mostly scored for soprano and basso continuo, sometimes with the addition of one or two treble instruments. A large part of this repertoire is hardly known; only a handful of cantatas are regularly performed and recorded. Among them is one which is also included in this recording of Contrasto Armonico: Pensieri notturni di Filli, better known with its first words Nel dolce dell'oblio. One of the reasons for its popularity is the obbligato part for recorder.

Some years ago Marco Vitale started a project of recording all the cantatas Handel wrote during his stay in Italy, from 1707 to 1711. He composed more than one hundred of them, so there is still a long way to go. This fourth volume presents five which were written in Rome, where Handel worked in 1707 and 1708. It is assumed that they were all composed for performance during the musical entertainments which were organized by the Marquis Francesco Maria Ruspoli. Ellen T. Harris, in her liner-notes, sees also a connection between the two cantatas about Clori. The overlap in subject between them "suggest the possibility that both works refer to a specific couple known to the contemporary Roman audience. If so, this couple's identity has been lost in time".

They both date from 1708. Clori, vezzosa Clori (HWV 95) has two pairs of recitative and aria. The arias are strongly contrasting: in the first Handel makes use of chromaticism to express Clori's pain of being separated from her beloved. In the closing aria the beloved expresses his feelings: it is impossible to forget Clori. This aria has the form of a minuet. Clori, mia bella Clori (HWV 92) is different: it includes four pairs of recitative and aria, and the scoring is extended with two violins which Handel uses in various ways. In the first aria silences reflect its sad character, in the third pauses and Seufzer depict Clori's weeping. In most arias the violins play in unison; only in the last their parts are split, and here Handel creates a four-part texture.

The closing cantata, Lungi n'andň Fileno (HWV 128), is the most gloomy of this disc. The first recitative begins with the words: "Far, far Fileno has gone, Fileno, the better part of my life". The first aria says: "Yes, weep, O my eyes, and at the sound of your tears let my heart respond with sighs". Through the slow tempo (largo), shifts in rhythm and bold harmonic progressions the sadness of the protagonist is eloquently exposed. The second recitative states that endless weeping doesn't alleviate the pain, and therefore "I wish to live no longer", as the closing aria says. Handel uses dissonances and wide leaps in the vocal part to express the desperation of the protagonist.

The most remarkable cantata is Sans y penser (HWV 155), the only one of Handel's on a French text. It is not exactly known why Handel composed this cantata, but a bill for copying it has been found in the account books of Marquis Ruspoli in September 1707. It begins with a chanson, a kind of song without a dacapo, which is followed by three pairs of récitatif and air. The two characters are Silvie and Tirsis: Silvie has made Tirsis fall in love with her, but she doesn't mean it that seriously. Tirsis prefers a lasting love over a short affair and the cantata closes with an aria in which he states that drinking is better than the "faithlessness of an ungrateful shepherdess". As Ellen Harris says, it is "a true French cantata, rather than simply a cantata in the Italian style but with a French text (...)".

This is the first volume from this series I have heard. I have become acquainted with Contrasto Armonico through its recording of Handel's serenata Aci, Galatea e Polifemo. I was quite impressed with the way Marco Vitale and his colleagues interpreted this piece. My positive impressions are confirmed with this disc. Stefanie True has developed into a very fine Handel singer. No wonder she won first prize in the London Handel Singing Competition. Her delivery is very good, and she makes the most of the recitatives, with the appropriate rhythmic freedom. There is also no lack of expression in the arias. The last cantata, Lungi n'andň Fileno, gives a pretty good idea of her interpretational skills. Klaartje van Veldhoven has also a nice voice, but a bit lighter; in Sans y penser there is no difficulty telling them apart. I have some reservations, though. It is nicely sung, but it doesn't sound French enough to my ears. Ms Van Veldhoven delivers a good account of Pensieri notturni di Filli, but could have done more in the B section of the closing aria. Let me not forget to mention one of the great assets of this disc: the stylish ornamentation. There are no exaggerated cadenzas nor is there any rewriting of complete lines in the dacapos. What a relief!

A project like this can't be appreciated enough. Handel is generally considered a master in depicting human emotions, and that clearly comes to the fore in his cantatas. The performers have managed to display that quality in these recordings.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

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