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George Frideric HANDEL & Nicola PORPORA: Arias

[I] George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759): "Mio caro Händel"
Simone Kermes, soprano
Amici Veneziani
rec: May 28 - June 1, 2018, Berlin, Jesus-Christus-Kirche
Sony - 19075861772 (© 2019) (79'56")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Amadigi di Gaula (HWV 11) (Ah! spietato!); Athalia (HWV 52) (My vengeance awakes me); Deidamia (HWV 42) (M'hai resa infelice); Giulio Cesare in Egitto (HWV 17) (Piangerò la sorte mia); Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno (HWV 46a) (Come nembo che fugge col vento); La Resurrezione (HWV 47) (Disserratevi, o porte d'Averno); Lotario (HWV 26) (Scherza in mar la navicella); Rinaldo (HWV 7a) (Furie terribili; Lascia ch'io pianga); Rodelinda, Regina de' Longobardi (HWV 19) (Se 'l mio duol non è si forte); Saul (HWV 53) (Author of peace); Serse (HWV 40) (Ombre mai fu); Süße Stille, sanfte Quelle (HWV 205); Teseo (HWV 9) (Morirò, ma vendicata); The Triumph of Time and Truth (HWV 71) (Guardian angels)

Helen Barsby, Davikd Rodeschini, trumpet; Martin Ripper, recorder; Martin Kiesling, transverse flute; Markus Müller, Martin Jelev, oboe; Alexander Golde, bassoon; Boris Begelman, Antonio De Secondi, Luca Ranzato, Lorenzo Colitto, Stefano Bruni, Gabriele Pro, violin; Alberto Salomon, viola; Giuseppe Mulé, cello; Luca Stevanato, double bass; Gianluca Geremia, theorbo; Maurizio Fornero, harpsichord

[II] "Duel - Porpora and Handel in London"
Giuseppina Bridelli, mezzo-soprano
Le Concert de l'Hostel Dieu
Dir: Franck-Emmanuel Comte
rec: June 27 - 30, 2018, Lyon, Temple Lanterne
Arcana - A461 (© 2019) (65'50")
Liner-notes: E/F/I; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

George Frideric HANDEL: Alcina (HWV 34) (Sta nell'ircana pietrosa tana); Ariodante (HWV 33) (Scherza infida; Suite de ballet); Tolomeo (HWV 25) (Inumano fratel, barbara madre - Stille amare, già vi sento, rec & aria); Nicola PORPORA (1686-1768): Arianna in Naxo (Nume che reggi 'l mare); Calcante e Achille, cantata (A questa man verrà); David e Bersabea (Dolce è su queuste alte mie logge a sera - Fu del braccio onnipotente, rec & aria); Mitridate (Alza al soglio i guardi); Polifemo (overture; Il gioir qualor s'aspetta); Poro (Quando piomba improvvisa saetta)

Elisabeth Passot, Jon Olaberria, oboe; Serge Desautels, Eric Villevière, horn; Pierre Bats, Florian Gazagne, bassoon; Reynier Guerrero, Gabriel Ferry, Paul Monteiro, Sayaka Shinoda, André Costa, Minori Deguchi, violin; Myriam Cambreling, Aurélie Métivier, viola; Aude Walker-Viry, cello; Nicolas Janot, double bass; Nicolas Muzy, theorbo, guitar; Franck-Emmanuel Comte, harpsichord

A CD with Handel arias is as common today as a recording of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. Vivaldi may make him more and more competition, among the lovers of baroque operas - whether interpreters or listeners - Handel is still at the top. Simone Kermes has often sung Handel too; he has accompanied her throughout her career from the beginning, as she writes in a personal essay in the booklet of her new CD. And this results in a very personal selection, in which the virtuoso pieces are not missing, but in which the more intimate arias have the upper hand.

Kermes shows a side of her artistry that may have been less prominent. The sometimes very slow tempos are noticeable, as in the last piece of the CD, Lascia ch'io pianga, where the music seems to almost come to a standstill. She often contains herself in volume as well. I think that the way she sings here comes much closer to the ideal of a true baroque style than what is common practice in baroque opera performances these days. It is also praiseworthy that she mostly sings the top notes rather piano, and this also corresponds to the habits of the baroque period. Too bad that in some arias she exceeds the tessitura of her part in the cadenzas, especially in 'Scherza in mar la navicella' (Lotaria). I also notice with satisfaction that she is usually keeps her vibrato under control. I have read several negative comments about this disc. I have the impression that the critics are particularly displeased by those aspects of Kermes's interpretations that reflect the aesthetic ideals of the baroque era. It seems that they are not really interested in a historically tenable interpretation of baroque operas.

Overall, I like this disc, despite some issues mentioned above, especially as I did not expect too much from it. Among the highlights are 'Piangerò la sorte mia' from Giulio Cesare and 'Ah! spietato! ' from Amadigi di Gaula. The German aria Süße Stille, sanfte Quelle is also very nice. 'Furie terribili' from Rinaldo is disappointing, not because Kermes does not sing this aria well, but because it was wrongly thought a good idea to open it with the sound of a thunderstorm, which is repeated during the aria. Such antics are superfluous and annoying. Kermes is accompanied here by the orchestra Amici Veneziani, which she founded in 2017, and which plays very well. The booklet includes the lyrics, but unfortunately not the backckground of the recorded arias and their dramatic context. From that angle this disc is something for insiders.

We humans seem to love conflict. Never will the media be so intensively followed, as when a conflict arises in politics or society. The gossip magazines live on quarrels between people in public life. There is nothing new here; it has always been that way. From music history we know of several conflicts between followers of different styles or composers. It is a pity for posterity if such conflicts on closer examination turn out to be the fruit of wishful thinking on the part of authors keen on a good story. When Handel dominated the London opera scene, a new opera troupe was founded, the Opera of the Nobility. They brought the famous opera composer and singing teacher Nicola Porpora to London to compete with Handel. That came to nothingh. Both opera companies did not fare well, but that had nothing to do with the competition between the two composers. The disc with the title 'Duel' puts the two alongside each other rather than in opposition to each other. Stefano Aresi, in his liner-notes, states that there are no reasons to believe that they disliked each other. On the contrary, it seems that they went along pretty well. The programme Giuseppina Bridelli and Le Concert d'Hostel Dieu recorded, closes with 'Quando piomba improvviso saetta', an aria from Porpora's opera Poro, which Handel included in his pasticcio Catone in Utica. Porpora, on the other hand, owned a copy of Handel's opera Tolomeo.

This disc is not about a conflict between two composers, but rather documents the stylistic differences between them. Handel is considered the more traditional of the two, whereas Porpora embraced the new galant style. He preferred the libretti by Pietro Metastasio, but Handel mostly set libretti by older poets. Part of the programme is Handel's ballet music to Ariodante, with which Handel tried to meet modern taste.

Giuseppina Bridelli has a very nice and flexible voice. She has no problems with the coloratura and her diction is very good. Although she does not have a particularly strong voice, the more dramatic arias come off pretty well. However, there are also arias where her voice flutters quite a bit. In the more introverted pieces, she keeps her vibrato more under control, and is she more convincing from a stylistic point of view. The orchestra leaves nothing to be desired.

This disc is especially important because of its repertoire. We do not know that many operas by Porpora; they are seldom performed, and even arias from his operas are not often included in recital programmes. His oratorios are even lesser known, and therefore the inclusion of a recitative and aria from David e Bersabea is of great importance. This disc makes abundantly clear that the lack of interest in Porpora's opera's and oratorios is not due to a lack of quality.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Giuseppina Bridelli
Simone Kermes
Le Concert de l'Hostel Dieu

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