Fanfare Magazine

[p]Hallelujah! I have long hoped that someone would give us a complete recording of Handel’s cantatas. We have had multiple complete recordings of Bach’s cantatas, but most of Handel’s remain unrecorded. And it is the cantatas with instrumental accompaniment that have received the overwhelming attention of the recording industry. Glossa is currently finishing its series of recordings of the instrumental cantatas. The cantatas accompanied by continuo, which account for about 80 percent of the total, have had far fewer recordings.[/p]

[p]This recording is labeled “Complete Cantatas, Volume 2.” It appears that each volume will have a mixture of instrumental and continuo cantatas. Volume 1 contains the instrumental cantata Da qual giorno fatale and three continuo cantatas, with the same artists as Volume 2.[/p]

[p]Handel’s cantatas were mostly composed during his stay in Italy, although some were composed later in Hanover and London. Almost all are in Italian, but there are a few in French, Spanish, and English. Most deal with the frustrations of love. The vast majority are for solo soprano, although some feature two or three soloists.[/p]

[p]Brilliant has made an excellent start to its project. Stefanie True has a beautiful voice. It is warm, and she is able to color it for expressive purposes in response to the text. She is adept at coloratura and has a good trill. Marco Vitale provides sympathetic support, and his period band plays expertly. Of the two instrumental cantatas, Un’alma innamorata is lightly scored, for violin and continuo. Vitale uses a solo violinist. Tra le fiamme is much more elaborately scored, for recorders, oboes, strings, and continuo, with viola da gamba obbligato. Only once was I disappointed with Vitale’s direction. The aria “Voli per l’aria” in Tra le fiamme is simply too fast; the soloist and orchestra must scramble to keep up.[/p]

[p]Both of the instrumental cantatas have been recorded numerous times. Un’alma innamorata has six additional recordings listed at ArkivMusic. Of those I have heard, two (on Phoenix Editions and Bongiovanni) are poorly sung (see reviews in Fanfare 33:2 and 23:4, respectively). Glossa offers stiffer competition. Emanuela Galli offers a generally good performance, although I find Stefanie True’s voice more pleasing. In addition, Bonizzoni on Glossa takes the aria “Quel povero core” very slowly, almost two minutes longer than Vitale, which sounds excessive to me. Bernard Jacobson had high praise for Patrice Michaels on Cedille (Fanfare 25:2).[/p]

[p]Tra le fiamme has eight additional recordings in the current catalog. It has had numerous good recordings. I am familiar with two of them. On L’Oiseau-Lyre, Emma Kirkby and Christopher Hogwood give an outstanding performance, and Hogwood finds a better tempo for “Voli per l’aria” than Vitale. I do not care for the voice of Roberta Invernizzi, who sings this cantata in the Glossa series, though I know other of my colleagues differ from me in this. Also, Bonizzoni turns in the fastest reading of the three I am familiar with, to the detriment of the music in my view. (Brian Robins gives a very positive review in Fanfare 30:4.) Of the recordings I have not heard, those on Chandos (22:2), Raumklang (23: 6), Naïve (formerly on Astrée, 24:1), and Archiv (24:5) have received positive reviews from Fanfare.[/p]

[p]In the notes to Volume 1 of the series, Vitale discusses differences in pitch in various regions and states that he intends to perform each set of cantatas at the pitch in use where the cantatas were written. For Volumes 1 and 2 that area is Rome, and Vitale has settled on A = 392 as the pitch for these performances. He claims this gives the works a more intimate sound. I don’t know that I would necessarily agree with that, but the pitch does make the works sound less bright. Compare, for example, Vitale’s Tra le fiamme with Hogwood’s, which uses the pitch A = 415, for a demonstration of the different effect of the two pitches. Glossa does not specify the pitch used, but it sounds very close to Vitale’s.[/p]

[p]Texts and translations are included, and Handel scholar Ellen Harris provides the notes. All five cantatas receive outstanding performances, with the three continuo cantatas being new to the catalog. I look forward with excitement to future releases in the series.[/p]

[p]FANFARE MAGAZINE: Ron Salemi[/p]

[p]My Want List (Fanfare Magazine, 29 October 2010)[/p]

[p]My Want List begins with the exciting new series from Brilliant of Handel cantatas, the first two volumes of what will eventually be a complete recording of all of Handel’s cantatas. If the remaining volumes bring us performances of the outstanding quality of this first installment, this will be a very distinguished series that fills a gaping hole in the Handel discography. (Ron Salemi)[/p]

Gramophone

Some rarely heard Handelian treasures are charmingly performed

[p]The second volume in Contrasto Armonico’s complete Handel cantatas project presents what seem to be two premiere recordings: “O lucenti, o sereni occhi” and “Aure soavi e liete”. Both are expertly accompanied by harpsichordist Marco Vitale and cellist Marta Semkiw, and confirm that this most neglected sphere of Handel’s output contains plenty of treasures for those willing to dig. For instance, Handel’s word-painting to illustrate the languishing torment of a lover in “Per voi languisco e moro” (HWV144) is extraordinary but even obsessive Handelians will have scarcely heard it before. Un’alma innamorata is more familiar: it is a welcoming trend that Contrasto Armonico’s performance generally flexes firmer dramatic muscles and a more focused personality than was evident on their previous attractive Handel recordings but without resorting to the eccentric and unhistorical plethora of guitars and viols that plague some other recent recordings of such repertoire. Ellen Harris’s booklet-note perpetuates some controversy about alleged homoerotic tensions in the Arcadian Academy but Vitale provides his own insightful remarks probing the theory that Handel’s indication of a “violone grosso” for the bass part means an 8-foot large viol and not a double bass.[/p]

[p]The disc concludes with a lovely performance of Tra le fiamme, a metaphorical text that draws upon the myth of Icarus and Daedalus, and compares the danger of a tormented infatuation for a beautiful lover with a moth destroyed by its own fascination for a flame. Several recent recordings have dwelt on the physical peril of flying too close to the sun in their brisk tempi for the cantata’s recurring musical theme but Vitale chooses wisely to evoke the gentler pastoral sonorities offered by the recorders, and more perfectly illustrates the elegant flight of a phoenix rising from the moth’s ashes, just as the singer blithely hopes that their desire will transcend those of other doomed lovers. The dialogue between True’s voice and Heidi Groeger’s viola da gamba is delightful, and the comparatively weightless lower textures caused by the use of 8-foot violone feels absolutely right.[/p]

David Vickers, Gramophone Magazine June 2010