Notes and Editorial Reviews
Composed in Rome in 1707, this is Handel's first oratorio. The title translates as "The Triumph of Truth and Enlightenment", and the plot, such as it is, is one of those sappy religious allegories in which Beauty is tempted to a life of hedonism by Pleasure. After a couple of hours of vacillation in a series of arias, duets, and quartets, and with the help of trusty Time and Enlightenment, Beauty learns how to be God-fearing and miserable, just like the rest of us. What could be--and often is--a tendentious bore in the hands of other composers (including Mozart in his similar pieces), is redeemed not by faith in Christian morality, but by Handel's music, which is incredibly entertaining right from the zippy opening Sonata, with
its violin solos believed to have been written for, and performed by, none other than Corelli.
The work calls for four soloists, all high voices (soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, and tenor), and happily the women here are excellent, and all have a very distinctive sound that permits them to characterize their roles effectively. Natalie Dessay is completely convincing as Beauty, singing with her trademark lovely tone and plenty of agility. She has a lot to do--about nine arias, plus a couple of ensembles, including the touching conclusion, Tu del Ciel ministro eletto, with its ethereal accompanying violin solo. Especially in this last number Dessay's breath control and legato phrasing rivet the attention despite the very slow tempo, making the soft ending anything but anti-climactic.
As Pleasure, Ann Hellenberg's rich mezzo brings the right measure of seductiveness to the part, but not so much that Sonia Prina's magnificent work as Enlightenment and Pavel Breslik as Time can't make their respective less sexy, more cerebral points with the necessary persuasiveness. Breslik lacks a true trill (let's face it, most singers do), but you have to be impressed by the way he handles his runs in his frantic Part Two aria, È ben folle quell nocchier. The last half hour or so, in which Handel gives all of the characters a chance to show off some particularly fine tunes (including a gorgeous duet for Time and Enlightenment, I bell pianto dell'aurora), finds the young composer at his pre-English-period best. Indeed, much of this music turned up in later works, not to mention the English-language version of this one, renamed The Triumph of Time and Truth, at the very end of the composer's career.
If you've been following Emmanuelle Haïm's work on Virgin Classics, and in particular her terrific Monteverdi recordings, you know what to expect here: lively tempos, highly varied colors from the continuo, and pristine "authentic"-style textures that never turn cold or inexpressive. One minor caveat comes in the form of Stéphanie-Marie Degand's solo violin playing. She's one of those anonymous, "period performance" clones with a tone of vanishing thinness. Somehow I doubt that Corelli ever sounded like this, but her intonation is spot-on, and her very lack of presence insures that she stays out of the way of the excellent singing. This is two and a half hours of good, clean fun, and there's even a moral at the end, if you care.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.comm
Works on This Recording
Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno, HWV 46a by George Frideric Handel
Natalie Dessay (Soprano),
Emmanuelle Haďm (Harpsichord),
Emmanuelle Haďm (Organ),
Sonia Prina (Alto),
Ann Hallenberg (Mezzo Soprano),
Pavol Brslik (Tenor)
Le Concert d'Astrée
Date of Recording: 01/2006
Venue: IRCAM, Paris, France
Length: 145 Minutes 32 Secs.
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