CD Classico

CD 5 stelle *****

[p]Questa “serenata”, composta nel 1708 a Napoli probabilmente per l’occasione di un importante matrimonio aristocratico, non deve essere confusa con la successiva “Acis and Galatea”, un “masque” composto in Inghilterra nel 1718 su di un libretto in inglese. La triste storia dell’amore infelice fra il giovane Aci e la ninfa Galatea, spezzato dal geloso ciclope Polifemo che induce la ninfa ad annegarsi in mare e uccide Aci schiacciandolo con una rupe, viene riscattata dal finale, raccontato da Ovidio nelle Metamorfosi, in cui gli dei impietositi trasformano Aci in un fiume, così che sfociando in mare possa riabbracciare l’amata divenuta onde marine.[/p]

[p]Questa vicenda, molto tragica per una serenata, viene trattata da Händel con una musica estremamente varia, in cui le arie esprimono i diversi affetti dei protagonisti con grande ricchezza, originalità e, in taluni casi, raggiungendo l’apice della bellezza.[/p]

[p]Marco Vitale con la sua orchestra barocca rende magnificamente la varietà della musica, con un suono nitido e pulito, uno stile perfetto, aiutato dalla bravura dei suoi musicisti, che brillano anche nelle parti solistiche (magnifico per esempio l’oboe di Diego Nadra). Tali ottimi risultati vengono raggiunti con un insieme di strumenti piuttosto ridotto, che aggiunge fascino all’esecuzione e ci riporta alle pratiche esecutive dell’epoca, anche per l’uso del’insolito violone, ripreso filologicamente per le arie di Polifemo; l’economia e la linearità esecutive sono rispecchiate anche dalla decisione di Vitale di accompagnare semplicemente col clavicembalo le arie non orchestrate da Händel.[/p]

[p]Dal punto di vista vocale, i tre protagonisti bene si adeguano allo stile dell’epoca ed eseguono correttamente le loro parti. Il soprano canadese Stefanie True ha una bella voce e canta con garbo, forse con qualche freddezza d’interpretazione; lo stesso si può affermare per il giovane mezzosoprano cileno Luciana Mancini, che è vocalmente dotata e costituisce senza dubbio una interessante promessa; infine il basso-baritono americano-olandese Mitchell Sandler interpreta Polifemo, il vero protagonista, con intensità interpretativa e buona tecnica, anche se un po’ in difficoltà nella celebre e bellissima aria “Fra l’ombre e gli orrori”, a causa della terribile estensione di due ottave e mezzo che essa richiede al suo interprete.[/p]

Davide Dettore

cdclassico.com

Amazon.com

Trouble in Arcadia Fires Handel’s Musical Imagination

[p]5 stars ***** [/p]

[p]The shepherd Aci is in love with the sea nymph Galatea, but so is the cyclops Polifemo, the same cruel monster later to be blinded by Ulysses. Galatea flees from Polifemo into the depths of the sea. Polifemo seeks revenge by crushing Aci with a boulder. The ‘Gods’ feel pity for the lovers and change Aci’s blood into a limpid stream that flows eternally into the sea’s embrace. Such is the story, taken from Ovid, told by Handel’s ‘serenata’ Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, commissioned for a wedding performance in Naples in 1708 and performed several times more in Italy before Handel’s departure for Germany and England. This is an entirely different composition from the cantata “Acis and Galatea” that Handel composed later in England, with an English libretto. The Italian work is bolder in conception and far more virtuosic than its English pastoral counterpart. The ‘serenata’ was a genre half way from cantata to opera, usually sung at outdoor entertainments of the composer’s wealthy patrons, possibly in costume but not staged with scenery. Aci, Galatea e Polifemo has all the drama of any baroque opera, with more variety of affect from aria to aria than most. It features three of Handel’s finest arias ever, one by each of the cast; Galatea sings “Benche tuoni…” in the first act, Polifemo sings “Fra ‘ombre e gl’orrori…” at the beginning of the second act, followed immediately by Aci’s “Qui l’augel …” with its delicate bird sounds. The orchestra includes the usual strings plus the unusual violone which accompanies Polifemo, as well as oboe, recorders and trumpets — quite a festive and expressive ensemble! If some of the arias seem familiar, there’s the typical explanation; Handel liked his own work well enough to recycle much of it in later operas.[/p]

[p]On the whole, this is one of Handel’s showiest operatic works, making huge demands of virtuosity on the three singers. The bass who sings Polifemo needs to cover a compass from D below the bass staff to a’ in the treble, with leaps of two and a half octaves in the middle of the usual gyrations of sixteenth notes. Polifemo is in fact the key character; his singing needs to be simultaneously quite musical and yet quite “monstrous”. [As a basso myself, though not much of one, I occasionally wonder why we bassi are so often the bad and the ugly in baroque vocal music. I’ll have to write to my congressperson about such stereotyping, harumpf!] Basso Mitchell Sandler brings a rich, fibrous timbre and plenty of bravado to the role of Polifemo, a perfect contrast to the sweet and agile voices of soprano Stefanie True (Aci) and alto Luciana Mancini (Galatea). Notice the oddity that the male role of Aci has the higher tessitura. All three sing with remarkably precise tuning, which pays off in the several duet passage between the women singers and in the trios that conclude each act. Oboist Diego Nadra deserves special recognition for his sprightly obbligato playing, and conductor Marco Vitale scores my highest praise for his attention to musical detail and his ability to lead his orchestra through such varied passages with a sense of overall unity. There are several recordings of this serenata available, including a fairly recent release from conductor Emmanuelle Haim. That performance is slightly marred by the excessive vibrato that Haim seems to require of her singers, and by a weak performance of Galatea by alto Sara Mingardo. Head to head, I prefer this performance by Vitale and his Contrasto Armonico ensemble particularly because of the fine alto singing by Chilean Luciana Mancini. I’ll be listening for more of her work, as well as more of Sandler’s and True’s. There are two listing for this CD on amazon. Who knows why! Be advised that the prices are different. [/p]

[p]Giordano Bruno, Amazon.com, December 22, 2008 [/p]

Suono

[p]qualità artistica: 7.5 | qualità tecnica: 9.5[/p]

[p]Nel profluvio creativo con cui Georg Friedrich Händel inondò (1685-1759) il Settecento maggiore – ed era in buona compagnia coetanea – Aci, Galatea e Polifemo (luglio 1708), un’estesa serenata a tre voci su testo anonimo, non occupa un posto di rilievo: essa venne composta a Napoli, durante l’Italienreise del 1706-1708, dopo la tappa fiorentina e il soggiorno romano durante il quale lavorò per il marchese Ruspoli, lasciando ai posteri da qui una documentazione relativa, tra l’altro, alle sommette spese per soddisfare anche il suo appetito pantagruelico. A Napoli il teatro godeva maggiore libertà che non a Roma; malgrado ciò al giovane già affermato compositore inglese non riuscì, all’inizio della sua permanenza, di ricevere commissioni per la scena, ma subito lavorò per il duca di Alvito, componendo tra l’altro la serenata qui proposta, destinata ai festeggiamenti per le nozze dell’anfitrione con Beatrice Sanseverino.
[/p]
[p] La trama, tratta dalle Metamorfosi di Ovidio è quella del Masque Acis and Galathea composto dieci anni dopo a Londra, che ebbe a sua volta una seconda versione nel 1732, di nuovo nella forma di serenata.Quest’opera, di cui si sottolineano gli accenti singolarmente drammatici non tipici del clima espressivo di una serenata, si offre nella già adulta cantabilità – che ha illustrato tutta l’arte del Sassone – disegnata per i tre protagonisti, che qui sono, eccellenti, il soprano Stefanie True, il m.soprano Luciana Mancini e il basso Mitchell Sandler, in una parte vocalmente estesissima che prevede note di profondità inusitata; lo scenario espressivo, assai vario, è sostenuto plasticamente dall’efficacissimo Contrasto Armonico animato dal giovane Marco Vitale. [/p]

SUONO • febbraio 2009

Umberto Padroni

musica Dei donum / Johan van Veen

[p]One of the most remarkable things about Handel’s stay in Italy is the fact that he, who had travelled south to learn the Italian way of composing in no time developed into one of Italy’s most celebrated composers. As a result he got many opportunities to perform his own music, and also was in demand as a composer for occasional music.[/p]

[p]Aci, Galatea e Polifemo is also the result of such a request. In 1708 he only spent 10 weeks in Naples, but apparently his reputation had preceded him. He was immediately asked to compose a serenata, in all probability for the wedding of Tolomeo Saverio Gallo, the fifth Duke of Alvito, and Beatrice Tocco di Montemiletto, Princess of Acaja. This should take place on 19 July 1708; Handel completed the score on 16 June. Apparently Handel’s work made quite an impression, as it was performed again at the occasion of weddings in 1711 and in 1713.[/p]

[p]The genre of the serenata is not easy to define precisely, but generally speaking it is a work written in honour of a specific (aristocratic) person, often the employer of a composer or someone of his relatives. In most serenatas the virtues of that person are specifically referred to and hailed. Handel’s serenata is different: the subject is exactly the kind of stuff operas were made of. The story of the love between Acis and Galatea which is threatened by the cyclops Polyphemus, based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, was well-known and as it demonstrated the constancy of the love between Acis and Galatea, it was well suited for a piece to be performed at a wedding.[/p]

[p]Handel has set the libretto, written by Nicola Giuvo, as a kind of mini opera, with a sequence of recitatives and dacapo arias and some duets and trios. Although the performance wasn’t staged the serenata is quite dramatic, and there is lively interaction between the protagonists.[/p]

[p]There is no overture, so the Serenata starts with a duet of Acis and Galatea, where the female singers show the good blending of their voices, although they are rather different in character. Stefanie True uses a bit more vibrato than I had liked, but it doesn’t spoil the blending with Luciana Mancini, who sings with a minimum of vibrato. The latter shows her qualities in the first aria, ‘Sforzano a piangere’ (I am compelled to weep), which is dominated by descending figures. The sorrowful character of this aria is perfectly realised by Ms Mancini’s singing. The rather dark colour of her voice perfectly suites this aria anyway.[/p]

[p]In the first aria of Polyphemus, ‘Sibilar l’angui d’Aletto’ Mitchell Sandler gives a perfect characterisation of his personality, rough and uncivilised, but without falling into the trap of exaggerating his rudeness and of making him the laughing stock of the piece. The reply of Galatea in her aria ‘Benché tuoni’ is brilliantly sung and played, at high speed but perfectly articulated. In Acis’ aria ‘Dell’aquila l’artigli’ the basso continuo part is realised on the harpsichord only; Marco Vitale does a fine job here, reflecting some of the brilliance Handel was famous for.[/p]

[p]Polyphemus’ aria ‘Fra l’ombre e gl’onori’ is an example both of Handel’s often virtuosic writing for the voice and of his ability to translate text into music. The huge leaps in the vocal part, in which Polyphemus expresses his unsecurity in regard to love, comparing his tribulations with the fluttering of the butterfly, are technically very demanding, but Mitchell Sandler realises them with impressive ease. Another highlight is Acis’ aria ‘Qui l’augel da pianta in pianta’, in which there is also an expressive solo part for the violin. Next is another equally expressive aria of Galatea, ‘Se m’ami, o caro’. Luciana Mancini gives another fine performance here, giving the right attention to the key word ‘sospirar’ (sigh). And in the last aria by Acis, when he is killed by Polyphemus, ‘Verso già l’alma col sangue’, Stefanie True gives the best performance of her part in this work.[/p]

[p]From what I have written one may conclude that I am quite impressed by this recording. It is the first CD recording of this ensemble, and in my view it has made a very good start of what seems to be the first of a series of recordings for Brilliant Classics. Apart from the fact that Stefanie True uses more vibrato than I think is desirable – although not crossing the line of what is acceptable – I am happy with the way the singers are realising their part and their overall level of singing. The only slightly disappointing thing is the way the recitatives are performed. A bit more rhythmic freedom had made this performance even more dramatic and increased the amount of interaction between the protagonists. The orchestra is doing a very fine job here, with some excellent contributions of the violinist Joanna Huszcza and oboist Diego Nadra.[/p]

[p]I am looking forward to the next projects of Marco Vitale and if they are of the same level of this recording they will be a great increase of the Handel discography.[/p]

Johan van Veen (© 2009)
musica-dei-donum.net

American Record Guide

[p]Aci, Galatea e Polifemo was composed in Naples in 1708, apparently for use as a wedding entertainment. It has been overshadowed by the very different (and musically almost totally separate) treatment that Handel later gave the old Sicilian myth of love and jealousyin his English language work, Acis and Galatea. But this earlier Italian venture stands well on its own as Handel’s demonstration of mastery of the Neapolitan idiom of the serenata.[/p]

[p]This is, to my knowledge, the fourth recording the work has been given: a survey of them will be found in my review of the most recent (M/J 2004). The best of the previous ones was plausibily the one made for Harmonia Mundi (901253, J/F 1988) under Charles Medlam, with Emma Kirkby, Carolyn Warkinson, and David Thomas as the cast. It is now discontinued, though it surely should be reissued. The second recording is a general disaster under Augusto Ciavatta (Dynamic 272: J/F 2002). A welcome remedy to that came in the venture of Emmanuelle Haim (Virgin 45557, M/J 2004), with Sandrine Piau, Sara Mingardo, and Laurent Naouri as the singers.[/p]

[p]The Brilliant label’s new release is not a reissue, but a completely independent recording made in October 2007. it is admirable, with a cast international in origins but currently Dutch in connections. I find the voice of American-born Sandler more baritonal than “bassal” in a role meant to exploit the low register, but he is genuinely menacing and frustrated as the monster. The role of the male lover, Aci, was written for a soprano castrato, but it works well for musical (if not gender-sound) reasons, and the perky singing of Canadian True has a boyish charm to it. Of Chilean and Swedish background, Mancini has a mezzo-soprano richness that is very handsome and used with great eloquence sometimes.[/p]

[p]The hallmark of Haim’s recording is her boundless energy, which infuses the whole performance with a restless propulsiveness. Vitale offers a slightly less urgent quality, though everything is shaped intelligently and tellingly. For reasons he explains in his notes, he chooses to deliver some continuo parts only on the harpsichord, played by himself. The 18 other players that make up his orchestra do a fine job, with lovely wind work.[/p]

[p]This score has no instrumental introduction. While previous recordings have interpolated one Handel piece or another, Vitale makes no effort in that direction. Otherwise this Brilliant release (with full text and translation in a fine booklet) is one case where bargain price gets you a fully competitive and genuinely satisfying recording.[/p]

John Barker

American Recording Guide

September/October 2008

Gramophone

Handel from the Netherlands and an auspicious start to a promising series

[p]Handel’s serenata was composed for a wedding celebration at Naples in summer 1708. Emmanuelle Haim’s quirky 2003 recording (Virgin, 7/03) features plenty of colourful music-making and presents a stronger conflict between the jealous Cyclops Polyphemus and the two lovers than this tidy performance by the young Netherlands-based group Contrasto Armonico, which is apparently the first in a series of Handel projects. The group will presumably improve at small details, such as the continuo team telescoping cadences at the end of recitatives, the singers raising the dramatic convinction of the story-telling a few more degrees, and the orchestra finding a way to retain the fine aspects of its elegant playing while achieving more varied characteristics in different arias.[/p]
[p]However, this is an auspicious debut. The duet “Sorge il di” illustrates the tasteful understanding between singers and instrumentalists. Luciana Mancini has a more suitable voice for a part that Handel probably wrote for a mezzo-soprano rather than Haim’s contraldo Sara Mingardo. Canadian soprano Stefanie True is more understated than Haim’s trump card Sandrine Piau, but sings Acis no less beautifully. Mitchell Sandler’s performance of Polyphemus’ “Sibilar l’angui d’Aletto” is flamboyant rather than menacing, but there is something to be said for allowing the convivial radiance of Handel’s music to shine.[/p]
[p]The performance is noteworthy for Marco Vitale’s natural tempi and obvious affection for the subtleties in Handel’s notation (“Qui l’augel di pianta in pianta” is performed lyrically in 6/8 as the composer indicated, unlike Haim’s lush but self-indulgent slow 3/4). The fast music is quick enough, but never at the expense of articulacy. Recitatives could flow a little more freely, but I particularly enjoyed their clarity and simplicity, which allows the listener time to become fully immersed in the poetry. Rather than trying to escape the music’s stylised conventions (as Haim often seems overly desperate to), Vitale warmly embraces them and shares them with his listeners.[/p]

David Vickers
Gramophone Awards 2008