Contrasto Armonico take a novel approach and it pays off handsomely

La Resurrezione was the most elaborate entertainment Handel composed during his four-year visit to Italy. The oratorio was commissioned by the Marchese Ruspoli, and performed at his grand Roman palazzo on Easter Sunday 1708. Corelli led the unusually large orchestra of about 45 players, and the hall was decorated lavishly for the occasion. For its seventh (sic) recording, Contrasto Armonico provide new food for thought by performing La Resurrezione at the low pitch that was common in Rome in the early 1700’s, but with the woodwind-players using higher-pitched instruments and transposing their parts down accordingly (as one imagines that wind-players probably imported from Venice might have done in Handel’s performances).  The sonorities achieved by this approach are highly effective, such as the slow middle section featuring two lyrical oboes in Maria Cleofe’s “Naufragando” and the sorrowful recorders in Maria Maddalena’s “Ferma l’ali”. Another notable feature is Marco Vitale’s sensible editorial solution for the lost trombone part; it plays the basso continuo line in all passages that feature trumpets.

Klaartje van Veldhoven’s Angel is a bit reedy, but it is refreshing that Mitchell Sandler’s Lucifero is a plausibly suave Prince of Darkness rather than the blustering pantomime villain one usually hears. Stefanie True’s unobtrusive ornamentation in “Ho un non so che nel cor” is excellent, and she sings “Per me già di morire” sweetly. I am less keen on Kirstine Gether’s unusual timbre and unsteady shaping of lines (though the band plays “Vedo il ciel” with radiant optimism). Marcel Beekman’s singing is neat but plain. Contrasto Armonico’s gently rhetorical playing, and Vitale’s articulate harpsichord continuo, is good throughout. The pacing of the work is often a bit slower than one might expect, and such a patiently poetic character bespeaks Vitale’s radically different approach to the bold dynamism that others prefer in this repertoire. The unforced and relaxed manner enables clarity of vocal and instrumental elocution, and, although some recitatives could have benefited from more animation, Vitale’s interpretation is thoughtfully prepared and inquisitive.

David Vickers Gramophone – September 2009