Gramophone – May 2012

Two volumes of the Dutch Handel cantata series with new catalogue additions Aminta e Fillide was probably composed for Handel’s principal Roman patron, the Marquis Ruspoli (whose descendent Princess Claudia Ruspoli is official patron of this recording). The first version might have been produced in December 1706 but a comparison of the autograph and early manuscript sources reveals that, for a later performance (perhaps in September 1708), Handel inserted two big arias towards the end of the cantata.

Previous recordings by Denys Darlow and La Risonanza both incorporated Handel’s extra arias but Marco Vitale bucks the trend and reverts to the shorter first version. His conscientious booklet-note presents a sensible argument for his decision: a more natural flow to the conclusion of the poetry without two elaborate arias holding up the final duet, an avoidance of awkward modulations between old recitatives and new arias, and consistency of instrumental scoring for three violins and basso continuo (the extra music requires additional violins and viola).

Contrasto Armonico’s experiment produces an enjoyable alternative. String ritornellos are paced and played tenderly, and the relaxed exchange of recitatives serves the elegant Arcadian poetry. Fillide’s ‘Fiamma bella’ is sung enchantingly by Stefanie True (worthy winner of the 2011 London Handel Singing Competition). Klaartje van Veldhoven’s voice has a few shades more bite, which is ideal for the clarity of contrast between the two characters; she also sings Aminta’s ‘Se vago rio’ with captivating deftness (the pizzicato strings lacking viol one conjure an atn10spbere of gentle weightlessness).

On Vol4 the identical team of players and singers present five shorter cantatas that might have been written for Ruspoli, including the unique French cantata Sans y penser (copied for Ruspoli in September 1707), in which the shepherdess Silvie (True) and the shepherd Tirsis (Veldboven) take turns to share wry observations on the fickleness and tortures of love. The music is a rare instance of Handel composing Francophile vocal music; Vitale’s harpsichord-playing, continuo cellist Marta Semkiw and the two singers combine intuitively and stylishly to produce and inch-perfect performance. Neglected continuo cantatas Clori, vezzosa Clori and Lungi n’ando Fileno receive their first-ever recordings; in the latter, True poignantly expresses bow an abandoned lover wishes for death to bring an end to their fierce pains (‘Dunque se il tanto piangere’). In Clori, mia bella Clori, viouns converse beautifully with True (‘Mie pupille se tranquille’). Contrasto Armonico’s slow-burning series continues to furnish Handelian food for thought.

David Vickers

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]


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


[p]Ad ascoltarle così, una dopo l’altra, le cantate di G. F. Handel ricordano le pagine di un ricettario da negromante, di un centone di incantamenti in cui quel Dulcamara del barocco in musica combina le sue essenze in elisir sonori irresistibili. Ogni passaggio, ogni tema s’intreccia con gli altri in combinazioni che sembrano potenzialmente infinite, ma che in realtà sono ingegnosamente selezionate al solo scopo di evocare e sottomettere il demone della bellezza. [/p]

[p]Un lavoro di geniale apprendistato cui il divino sassone si dedicò soprattutto nei suoi soggiorni italiani, stipando il baule di meraviglie che avrebbero fatto la sua fortuna negli anni gloriosi d’oltremanica. Di questo baule Marco Vitale e il suo Contrasto Armonico hanno l’intenzione di portare a termine un’esplorazione approfondita, inaugurando con questa incisione un’inedita integrale dell’intero corpus delle cantate handeliane. [/p]

[p]Progetto che Vitale, giovane musicista palermitano, affronta con slancio da appassionato e accuratezza da filologo: da un lato un fraseggio duttile e ben ossigenato, stacco di tempi agile ma non frenetico, tinte vivaci ma senza contrasti estremi; dall’altro adozione di un diapason vicino a quello in uso nella Roma di inizio Settecento, un tono circa più grave di quello attuale. Scelta che paga nel calore dell’immagine acustica complessiva e che permette a Stefanie True, voce solista assolutamente in stile e capace di pronuncia quasi perfetta, ma leggermente acida nelle note acute, di farsi ascoltare nella regione che più le si addice. Il ricorso ad un continuo più variato, con l’integrazione di una tiorba ad esempio rappresenterebbe nelle prossime registrazioni una spezia per insaporire ancora di più la succulenta pietanza.[/p]

Giovanni Cappiello,, June 2010

Rivista SUONO

[p]Marco Vitale, co-fondatore non ancora trentenne dell’ensemble Contrasto Armonico, è un musicista che, entrato precocemente nel mondo dell’esecuzione cameristica, è stato fatalmente calamitato dalla qualificata attività che l’Olanda da sempre sviluppa attorno al barocco musicale, e oggi insegna al Conservatorio reale dell’Aja. Sostenuta dai dieci musici del Contrasto, Stefanie True, soprano di vocalità duttilissima e di luminoso nitore, capace di filature lunghe ed espressive come raramente si odono, dà voce ai testi italiani delle quattro Cantate di Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759) accolte in questo primo volume dell’integrale del genere. Si tratta di Da quel giorno fatale (Delirio amoroso) HWV 99, su testo del cardinale Benedetto Pamphilj – di cui la Biblioteca Angelica di Roma conserva un grande ritratto – Ditemi o piante HWV 107; Care selve, aure grateHWV 88, e Allor ch’io dissi addio HWV 80, tutte composte durante il fecondo soggiorno romano dal 1707 al 1709. [/p]

[p]I temi arcadici guidano la mano del prolifico compositore sassone nella definizione di composizioni ariose, non complesse, intessute di grazia ed eleganza, dalle quali si alza la voce che già, da queste mature creazioni di gioventù, si rivela essere il parametro di più pregnante espressività della sua arte. Händel era nel cuore della triennale esperienza italiana, che si avviava però alla conclusione se nell’inverno 1709, sulla strada di Hannover, colse a Venezia, con Agrippina, un successo senza confronti. Seguendo la presente iniziativa editoriale, e grazie all’illuminato impegno degli artefici, il musicofilo potrà esaurire il proprio interesse su un capitolo di grande scuola della storia della musica barocca, ma non solo.[/p]

Umberto Padroni

Voto artistico: 8

Voto tecnico: 9

Elegante Schlichtheit

Kammermusikalische Vokalmusik

[p]Die hier agierenden Musiker wirkten mit der Sängerin bereits für zwei andere Aufnahmen von italienischen Vokalwerken Händels, nämlich für ‘Aci, Galatea e Polifemo’ sowie für das Oratorium ‘La Resurrezione’ zusammen, die ebenfalls bei Brilliant Classics erschienen sind. Nun widmen sie sich der kammermusikalischen Vokalmusik Händels, die vormalig zur privaten Unterhaltung von adeligen Mäzenen diente. Die Stücke sind sehr unterschiedlich gestaltet, manche Kantaten beschränken sich auf zwei Arien und zwei Rezitative, begleitet mit Basso continuo, andere sind komplex ausgestaltete Szenen mit aufwändiger Instrumentalbegleitung. Die Kantaten auf dieser CD entstanden vermutlich zwischen 1707 und 1708 in Rom. Neben der größeren Kantate ‘Delirio amoroso’ finden sich auch ‘Ditemi, o piante’ (die hier zum ersten mal eingespielt vorliegt) sowie ‘Care selve, aure grate’ und ‘Allor ch’io dissi addio’. Marco Vitale entscheidet sich aus im Booklet ausführlich dargelegten Gründen für ein Musizieren bei angenehmen 392 Hz mit Gewinn für die Musiker. Auch das Ensemble pflegt einen frischen und brillanten Klang.[/p]

Unaufdringlich schön

[p]Die junge kanadische Sopranistin Stefanie True ist spezialisiert auf Alte Musik und sammelte bereits Erfahrung bei verschiedenen Barockfestivals innerhalb und außerhalb Europas. Dies ist ihre dritte Einspielung von Werken Händels zusammen mit Contrasto Armonico. Ihr heller, leichter Sopran schwingt sich elegant in die Höhe, und ihr ausgeglichenes, unaufdringliches Vibrato verhilft ihrer Interpretation zu noch mehr schlichter Eleganz. Stimmtechnisch hat sie keinerlei Schwierigkeiten, dieses Repertoire zu meistern. In ‘Un pensiero voli in ciel’ kommen die Koloraturen in der Höhe locker und glänzend, und auch in der tieferen Mittellage überzeugt sie mit kraftvoller und ausgeglichener Stimme. Ihre Verzierungen in den Arien sind schlicht und unaufdringlich. Auch die Rezitative sind fließend und, was die Gestaltung angeht, stimmig. Es bleibt die Frage, ob ein freierer Umgang in Dynamik und Agogik, vor allem hinsichtlich der Rezitative, die Sache nicht noch interessanter gemacht hätte. An manchen Stellen wäre vielleicht etwas mehr Feuer in der Ausführung wünschenswert gewesen. Dass hier noch Reserven im Verborgenen liegen, weiß man spätestens nach ‘Per formar sì vaga e bella pastorella’ und ‘Non ha forza nel mio petto’ in denen schon der ein oder andere Funke zu erspüren ist, aber klar wird, dass hier eben noch mehr Potential schlummert. Ruhig, innig und in außerordentlicher Klangschönheit klingt die CD mit ‘Il dolce foco mio’ aus und lässt wenn auch keinen emotional aufgewühlten, dann doch einen angenehm gerührten Hörer zurück.[/p]

Contrasto Armonico

[p]Das Ensemble Contrasto Armonico zeigt sich ausgeglichen und gut aufeinander eingespielt. Bereits in der ‘Introduzione’ der ersten Kantate ist das Spiel schwungvoll und punktgenau, der Klang schmiegsam und brillant. Das zum Einsatz gebrachte Cembalo, gespielt von Marco Vitale, harmoniert durch seinen hellen, feinen Ton besonders gut mit der Stimme der Sopranistin. Insgesamt ist diese Aufnahme wegen der reinen Stimme und des schönen Timbres von Stefanie True sehr ansprechend. Sie erweist sich als technisch versierte Künstlerin, deren Stimmklang sehr gut zu Händels Musik passt. Das Ensemble begleitet agil und klangschön. Trotzdem hätte etwas mehr Feuer der Interpretation gut getan. Um das noch einzubringen gibt es ja noch einige Möglichkeiten, schließlich war dies die erste CD der bei Brilliant erscheinenden Reihe ‘Complete Cantatas’ von Händel. Es wird spannend werden, inwieweit und in welche Richtung sich das Spiel der Musiker noch entwickeln wird.[/p]
Kritik von Eva-Marie Pausch, 04.12.2009 (