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Handel: Fernando Re Di Castiglia / Curtis

Release Date: 02/06/2007 
Label:  Erato   Catalog #: 65483   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Lawrence ZazzoVeronica CangemiFilippo AdamiMarianna Pizzolato,   ... 
Conductor:  Alan Curtis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Il Complesso Barocco
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 29 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Gramophone Review

An impressive recording of a Handel opera first draft – full of fine music.

Fernando is the abandoned first draft of Handel’s opera Sosarme (performed at the King’s Theatre in February 1732). We do not know why Handel changed almost all the character names, the location of the action and the title during the composition process, but in either guise the opera is full of top-drawer music. Alan Curtis has decided to reconstruct Fernando for philological reasons, although maybe the desire to bring us another “premiere” had something to do with it. Anthony Lewis’s pioneering L’Oiseau-Lyre LP set of Sosarme was the first Handel opera to be recorded with almost all voices in the right
Read more register and singing in Italian. Half a century later, there are still aspects of Lewis’s performance worth investigation (including Alfred Deller), unlike Johannes Somary’s calamitous 1994 version (Newport Classics, 12/94).

Curtis’s pacing and shaping of Handel’s music is consistently subtle, astutely rhetorical and firmly connected to the libretto text. Although it might be possible to explore firmer muscularity and create a more vivid sense of surprise in the quicker music, there is something to be said for Curtis’s shrewd reservation of such effects for when it is truly vital for the drama. For instance, Marianna Pizzolato’s powerful arias “Vado al campo” and “Cuor di madre e cuor di moglie” are potently delivered moments of severe agitated passion that are all the more effective for the sweeter elegance that pervades much of this lovely score. The sublime duet “Per le porte” is sung with poetic intimacy by Lawrence Zazzo and Veronica Cangemi. Zazzo sings his elegantly heroic aria “Alle sfere della gloria” with supple clarity. Max Emanuel Cencic is impressive as the reticent Sancio, unwilling to be used as a pawn in his ruthless grandfather Altomaro’s Machiavellian plans to tear the royal family apart. Antonio Abete gives an ideal account of the villain’s arias.

The only weak link is Filippo Adami’s vocally deficient Dionisio: natural Italian declamation in his extrovert recitatives is not enough to carry him through under-achieving blustery accounts of magnificent arias that deserve better. Il Complesso Barocco are excellent: ritornelli are intelligently weighted and phrased and instrumental contributions are patiently integrated with the singing. There are a few cuts to recitatives, but overall Fernando is one of Curtis’s most consistent and pleasing Handel opera recordings.

-- David Vickers, GRAMOPHONE

Fanfare Magazine Review:


HANDEL Fernando Alan Curtis, cond; Lawrence Zazzo ( Fernando ); Veronica Cangemi ( Elvida ); Marianna Pizzolato ( Isabella ); Antonio Abete ( Altomaro ); Max Emanuel Cencic ( Sancio ); Filippo Adami ( Dionisio ); Neal Banerjee ( Alfonso ); Il Complesso Barocco (period instruments) VIRGIN 65483 (2 CDs: 149: 19 & )

I didn’t get my copy of Fernando until a few days before Joel Flegler informed me that Brian Robins’s review was already online. As a result, I have the luxury (for once) of ignoring the need to provide an historical context, and can instead focus my comments entirely on the mechanics of performance. You’ll have to take my word for it that I didn’t actually read the Robins review until I’d finished my usual habit of noting down reactions to every piece in the set. I was struck afterwards by the fact that Robins and I agreed in so many respects about the singers, right down to details. Of Cangemi, for example, he writes of the delight experienced at “the mezza voce she employs at its most affecting at the word ‘madre’ as it introduces the well-ornamented da capo ” within the aria, “Rendi ’l sereno al ciglio”; and I have noted in front of me, in my usual illegible scrawl for that piece, “superb diminuendo on ‘madre,’ creamy mezza voce .” On Pizzolato, Robins, again: “vocal and dramatic conviction and purpose without ever sounding in danger of becoming a matriarchal stereotype. It’s a pity she has no trill.” Me: “At ‘Rasserena, Isabella’: nice drama, here, darker mezzo, gray lower range, no trill anywhere with her.” And so it goes. Depressing, isn’t it?

But we actually did have a few differences along the way. So I’ll run my reflections on this set’s performances by you, and let you be the judge.

Cangemi is definitely one of the stars of this Fernando . She manages extremely fast coloratura fluently, as “Dite ‘pace,’ e fulminate,” demonstrates. In “Per le porte del tormento” she displays excellent legato, and a genuine trill. Cangemi is also responsive to both generalized emotions that guide individual arias and specific words in the given text. She does more than sing; she interprets in a manner that brings to the fore the language-as-drama within Handel’s recitative. For angelic beauty of tone, I think her “Rendi ’l sereno al ciglio” may be one of the finest things on the album, her voice floating easily without any apparent wear or breath issues. Just occasionally I wanted something more incisive from her, an intensity in both words and music, but it wasn’t an overriding concern in this part—nor, admittedly, when I was charmed by so much else she provided.

Two duets feature Cangemi and Zazzo, and their voices blend well together, especially in “Per le porte del tormento,” one of my favorite pieces from this work. Zazzo’s countertenor, like many others, lacks brightness of metal, which dampens the effectiveness of a valor and honor piece such as “Alle sfere della gloria”; but he does possess good dramatic instincts (the slightly extra roll to the opening consonants on gloria is an example), and enunciates well. He also displays fine coloratura in the same number, as in “Come più de l’usato,” though both reveal an occasional shortness of breath. His tone is seldom allowed to bloom, but he does regularly vary the dynamics in his voice; and like Cangemi, again, he possesses a genuine trill.

The other countertenor in the cast, Cencic, has superior breath support, excellent enunciation and coloratura in “Sì, sì, minaccia, e vinta.” But the piece is a praise of concord that’s sung without any apparent emotion at all. Worse still is “So ch’il Ciel ben spesso gode.” As revenge arias go, this one is sung with remarkable ease, despite daunting figurations; yet again, it is a treated as a vocal exercise. Cencic confines his dramatic responses to recitative, sadly enough.

Pizzolato is the only other cast member to offer significant skill in florid work. She’s both dramatic and agile in the hectic “Vado al campo,” though there’s no trill on tap. Her accompanied recitative, “Rasserena, Isabella,” again shows an awareness of the importance of theater in Handel’s operas (and his oratorios, too, though in my experience it’s even harder to get soloists that will deliver on it). If the coloratura in “Forte inciampo” is sketchy at times, she delivers the melismatic goods in “Due parti del core.” The lower part of her voice is at times hard to hear and not very attractive, but it opens up well as it rises into a rich mezzo that is used with intelligence.

The rest of the cast doesn’t match this level, unfortunately. Adami, while demonstrating facility at coloratura, presents no malice or anger during either “Vedrai nello staccato” or “La turba adulatrice.” His voice sounds caught in the back of his throat, and its top is sometimes effortful. Abete possesses a good, dark bass, but it’s fraying: the voice moves awkwardly, with aspirates, over very simple figurations at a moderate speed. He sounds slightly unsteady at the best of times, though the range of the instrument is excellent and its basic beauty, intact. As for Banerjee, his role is mercifully small, since he does nothing more than approximate pitches all the time.

Curtis is, as usual, an incisive conductor on the podium. His tempos are judiciously chosen throughout, and he keeps the recitatives moving and dramatically focused. Rhythms are decisive, and Il Complesso Barocco performs with spirit. Like Robins, I enjoyed Curtis’s application of ornamentation, mostly in repeat sections; unlike him, I thought the conductor didn’t go too far. I did feel that the sound favored the orchestra over the singers, however, to such an extent at times that it could be difficult to discern vocal subtleties. The only other version I’m personally familiar with, a currently deleted set led by Johannes Somary, offered unpleasantly dry but better balanced acoustics, along with pallid playing and largely undistinguished singing.

David Vickers provides a good, lengthy essay on the opera. The set also includes a synopsis and the expected bilingual libretto. It’s good to have Fernando in the catalog, and despite a few reservations expressed above, this is clearly a fine recording worth enjoying many times over.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Sosarme, HWV 30 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Lawrence Zazzo (Countertenor), Veronica Cangemi (Soprano), Filippo Adami (Tenor),
Marianna Pizzolato (Mezzo Soprano), Neal Banerjee (Tenor), Max Emanuel Cencic (Countertenor),
Antonio Abete (Bass)
Conductor:  Alan Curtis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Il Complesso Barocco
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1732; London, England 
Notes: This selection is the first version of the opera "Sosarme, Rè di Media," initially titled "Frenando, Rè di Castiglia." 

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