musica Dei donum

CD reviews

George Frideric HANDEL (1785 - 1759): "Salve Regina"

Julie Roset, soprano
Millenium Orchestra
Dir: Leonardo García Alarcón

rec: Sept 2021, Namur, Grand Manège
Ricercar - RIC 442 (© 2022) (73'56")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Concerto à 5 (after George Frideric Handel, HWV 49 & 255); George Frideric HANDEL: Esther (HWV 50) (Praise the Lord with cheerful noise); Gloria (HWV deest); Il trionfo del tempo (HWV 46a) (Tu del ciel ministro electo); Salve Regina (HWV 241); Silete venti (HWV 242)

Shai Kribus, Seung Kyung Lee Blondel, oboe; Giulia Genini, bassoon; Yves Ytier, Laura Corolla, Kirsti Apajalahti, Lucien Pagnon, Amandine Solano, Jorlen Vega Garcia, Hans Cammaert, Roxane Rastegar, violin; Pierre Vallet, Brigitte de Callataÿ, Camille Feye, viola; Cyril Poulet, Karolina Plywaczewska, cello; Éric Mathot, double bass; Marie Bournisien, harp; Adria Gracia Galvez, organ

The career of George Frideric Handel can be divided into three stages, according to the country where he lived and was active as a composer: Germany, Italy and England. The disc under review includes music that he composed during the latter two stages, and the title of the liner-notes in the booklet sums up what the programme is about: "Handel: From Rome to London". It aims to show the continuity in his compositional activities, not only in the genres to which he contributed, but also his habit of borrowing from pieces written during his Italian period in compositions that he created later in England.

Salve Regina. It is one of the Marian antiphons, and because of its liturgical importance, it has been set numerous times in the course of history. Handel's version was probably first performed in 1707 in Rome in the private chapel of the Marchese Francesco Ruspoli at Vignanello, and was performed again later in Rome. The scoring for soprano, two violins and basso continuo was quite common at the time. The obbligato organ part in the third section, 'Eja ergo', was rather unusual. As Handel was a brilliant organist it isn't far-fetched to assume that he himself played this part during the performance. The four sections have tempo indications: largo (Salve Regina), adagio (Ad te clamamus), allegro (Eja ergo) and adagissimo (O clemens).

Handel did not compose any mass, nor even a section of it, except the Gloria, which in 2001 was identified as an authentic piece from his pen. It has the same scoring as the Salve Regina: soprano, two violins and basso continuo, but without any obbligato parts. The year of composition is not known. The score and parts are preserved at the Royal Academy of Music in London, but that does not imply that it was written during his English period. There was no need of a setting of the Gloria in Latin in the Anglican Church. It is more likely that Handel wrote it in Italy. It has been suggested that he may have started composing the Gloria in Germany. There are also suggestions that it may have been sung by the soprano Margherita Durastanti, although there are doubts on the basis of the pieces range. Although it is now generally accepted as an authentic piece by Handel, it cannot be established with one hundred percent security. Handel borrowed from it in some of his later compositions, but that it itself is no argument in favour of its authenticity, as he often borrowed from the oeuvre of other composers. However, there are stylistic reasons which point in his direction. Some sections are technically demanding: in particular the opening and closing sections are full of coloratura.

With Silete venti we are in London in the 1720s. It is thought to have been written around 1724. It shows strong similarity to the Italian solo motet, as it includes two arias, a short (accompanied) recitative and a closing Alleluia. However, the opening section is rather unusual: the first two subsections are instrumental movements, and at the end of the second the soloist suddenly intervenes with the text "Breezes, be silent; leaves, do not murmur". It has a strong dramatic effect which reflects Handel's theatrical instincts. In this piece Handel has borrowed material from one of his German arias, which he was composing at about the same time, and one of his Chandos Anthems. The Alleluia is based on the same section of one of his Italian motets, Saeviat tellus. Again, we have here a technically brilliant piece, and it seems likely that it was written for an experienced opera singer.

The inclusion of an aria from the oratorio Esther makes sense, as the first version was written for Cannons around 1718, at the time Handel also composed his Chandos Anthems. Moreover, material from Silete venti was reused in the second version of this oratorio (1732). In the aria Praise the Lord with cheerful noise, the harp has an obbligato part. At the end of the programme we return to Italy. Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno is an oratorio which was written in 1707 on a libretto by Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili. Handel later revised it for a performance in London in 1737.

The opening of the programme is a bit odd. The Concerto à 5 is not an authentic work by Handel. It has been preserved in the library of Uppsala University. The composer is unknown, but the three movements played here make use of material from the anthem The Lord is my light, one of the Chandos Anthems, and from the masque Acis and Galatea respectively.

Julie Roset is a young soprano, who only a few years ago started her career, mainly - as it seems - in early music. She has gained quite a reputation already, and that is easy to understand. It is just a joy to listen to her, because of the timbre and the agility of her voice, her excellent diction and her stylish interpretation. This disc is a model of baroque vocal technique, and completely in line with what we know about the aesthetic ideals of the time. I have heard several fine performances of the Gloria, but this is probably the first time that I have heard a really good performance of Silete venti. As I often have to listen to performances by singers who seem not to have a clue about what baroque music is about, this disc is a breath of fresh air.

That does not mean that there are no issues. I regret that Julie Roset takes sometimes too many liberties in the ornamentation of the dacapos. The aria from Esther is one example, the aria 'Date serena' from Silete venti another. In those cases she moves too far away from what is written down. I know that there are different opinions on this issue, and others may not bother about it, but I certainly do. Moreover, in the aria from Esther, she also exceeds the range of the part, which is generally undesirable. I also see possibilities for further development, especially in adding some colour to the voice. However, these issues don't compromise in any way my admiration of what Julie Roset brings to the table here.

Unfortunately the booklet is very sloppy. The lyrics of the Gloria are omitted (but can be easily found on the internet or in other booklets) and the tracknumbers are completely wrong.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Julie Roset
Millenium Orchestra

CD Reviews