musica Dei donum

CD reviews

George Frideric HANDEL: "Motetti e Sonate da chiesa"

Magali Léger, sopranoa

rec: August 18 - 21, 2008, Franc-Waret (Belgium), Église Saint-Remy
Musica Ficta - MF8008 (© 2009) (61'52")

Coelestis dum spirat aura (HWV 231)a; Gloria (HWV deest)a; Salve Regina (HWV 241)a; Sonata in F, op. 5,6 (HWV 401); Sonata in g minor, op. 2,5 (HWV 393);

Tami Troman, Guillaume Humbrecht, violin; Nicolas Crnjanski, cello; Julie Blais, harpsichord, organ

In the first decades of the 18th century German composers were inspired by foreign styles. Some, like Telemann, had a strong preference for French music, and most composers of his time aimed at mixing Italian and French elements with the traditional German style. Handel, a man of the theatre by nature, had mainly eyes and ears for what happened in Italy, and so it wasn't surprising that he went to Italy in 1706, where he stayed until 1710. He not only became acquainted with the Italian style, he very quickly started to compose in the genres which were especially popular in Italy, like the chamber cantata and the oratorio. The three vocal items on this disc belong to neither of these genres.

The disc begins with a setting of the Gloria, part of the Ordinary of the Mass. This was often set independently, and the scoring of this piece isn't extraordinary in any way. But its history is: it was known for a long time but never attributed to Handel. It was only in 2001 that it was identified as a composition by him. There is no concluding evidence, but on the basis of its character and because no other candidate for the authorship could be found it was assumed to be written by Handel. It is one of the strange things of modern musical practice that often compositions, as good as they may be, are virtually ignored as long as they can't be connected to a famous master. It is only after identifying this piece as Handel's that it was recorded.

It contains of six sections each of which is allocated to a different track. In this performance there are strong contrasts in tempo and dynamics between the various sections, and that is one of the reasons this performance is very captivating. The second section, 'Et in terra pax', and the fifth, 'Qui tollis peccata mundi', are quite slow and mostly sung piano. They are given highly expressive interpretations by Magali Léger, a singer who is new to me, and whom I very much would like to hear more often. She has a beautiful voice, with a warm timbre, an excellent diction and an impressive dynamic control. She uses her messa di voce to great effect - or, I should rather say, Affekt, because that is the main feature of this performance. The singing and the playing of the ensemble are aimed at exploring the affetti in this marvellous piece. This results in an almost perfect performance. Only the concluding 'Amen' is probably a little too fast as it sounds a bit hurried.

It is not known for sure when Handel, if he indeed is the composer, has written the Gloria: in 1707 in Rome, according to some, possibly even in Germany before his stay in Italy, according to others. The antiphon Salve Regina was probably performed in 1707 in Rome in the Santa Maria di Monte Santo. But it seems its first performance took place in the private chapel of the Marchese Francesco Ruspoli. This text has been set numerous times throughout the centuries in various scorings, and again the scoring for soprano, two violins and bc is quite common. What is remarkable about Handel's setting, though, is that it contains an obbligato part for the organ. As Handel was a brilliant organist it isn't far-fetched to assume Handel played this part himself during the performance. In contrast to the Gloria the four sections have tempo indications: largo (Salve Regina), adagio (Ad te clamamus), allegro (Eja ergo) and adagissimo (O clemens).

Magali Léger begins with a beautiful and effective messa di voce on the word "Salve" which she repeats a couple of times later. The second section, 'Ad te clamamus', is full of suspiratio figures, and the performers don't miss any opportunity to explore them to the full. The closing section, 'O clemens', is given an penetrating performance.

The last item, the motet Coelestis dum spira aura, also dates from 1707 and was performed in Vignanello where Marchese Ruspoli had a countryhouse. Here Handel uses a different form again. With its structure of two recitatives, each of which followed by an aria, it is modelled after the Italian secular chamber cantata. In addition, the work is introduced by a sonata and closes with an 'Alleluja'. In the first aria the two violins now and then play unisono, sometimes also colla voce. In the second aria the soprano is only supported by the basso continuo. Both contain some beautiful coloraturas which Magali Léger sings very well. The recitatives are performed in a speechlike manner, with excellent diction.

In between are two sonatas for two violins and bc. The set of six sonatas opus 2 was printed in London in 1732-33 but there is agreement that they were written at a considerably earlier date. In the booklet a hypothesis is mentioned that they were written before 1710 as they reflect the influence of the sonatas of Corelli, whom Handel had met in Italy and with whom he had worked together. But others believe they were written in England in the years 1717-18. The opus 5 is from 1739; its seven sonatas are of a more lighthearted nature and here Handel pays more attention to melody. The Sonata in F has five movements, the last of which is a menuet. RosaSolis gives brilliant and very gestural and rhetorical performances.

The booklet doesn't give any information about the performers. A search on the internet reveals that the ensemble was founded in 2003 and has performed at various prestigious festivals. For some reason it has so far escaped my attention, which is a shame as I am very impressed by their technical skills and their interpretational approach. The same is true for Magali Léger, who is not a specialist in early music and sings a wide variety of music. But what she delivers here is most impressive, both technically and stylistically. I rate this disc very high and I hope to hear a lot more from these artists.
The booklet contains programme notes, but the Latin lyrics are not translated.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:


CD Reviews