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Handel: Il Trionfo Del Tempo E Del Disinganno / Curnyn, Early Opera Company

Handel / Early Opera Company / Curnyn
Release Date: 02/22/2011 
Label:  Wigmore Hall Live   Catalog #: 42   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Andrew StaplesAnna StéphanyLucy CroweHilary Summers
Conductor:  Christian Curnyn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Early Opera Company
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HANDEL Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno Christian Curnyn, cond; Lucy Crowe ( Bellezza ); Anna Stephany ( Piacere ); Hilary Summers ( Disinganno ); Andrew Staples ( Tempo ); Early Opera Company (period instruments) WIGMORE HALL LIVE 0042 (2 CDs: 137:30 Text and Translation) Read more Live: London 1/29/2010

Handel’s 1707 oratorio Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno has been recorded fairly frequently of late. This is the sixth recording of which I am aware, all but one of which are still readily available.

This recording preserves a live performance at Wigmore Hall in 2010 and is issued on its house label. The quality of recording is equal to the best studio efforts, with all performers being heard easily. Of course, we also get occasional stage noises such as pages turning, as well as coughs from the audience.

Christian Curnyn leads a very good performance. Tempos are almost always reasonable, allowing the dramatic aspects of the story to make their points (the main exception being the A section of Bellezza’s “Un pensiero” in part I; however, the conductors on competing versions also prefer an extreme tempo for this aria). Da capo ornaments are mostly tasteful and idiomatic. The orchestra plays very well; a reviewer of the live performance noted the “odd moment of messy solo violin playing … and a bum note or two from the oboes” but, if such there are, they are so miniscule as barely to register. Although we have no details about the first performance of Il trionfo , Curnyn admits that the orchestra at the first performance “could well have been much larger than the forces he used in this recording.” Strings are 3/2/1/1/1, the smallest of any of the five available recordings, and the texture can sound a bit thin at times.

The cast is very accomplished. Best is Lucy Crowe’s Bellezza. She has a beautiful, clear voice with excellent technique. Of all who have recorded Bellezza, she most easily evokes beauty in her singing. Anna Stephany’s Piacere also gives pleasure; her mezzo contrasts well with Crowe, and she has the necessary agility for her role. While she does not excel her competition as Crowe does, she is among the best to essay the role on recordings.

The character Tempo has been well served on all recordings. Andrew Staples is among the best of them. His beautiful tenor voice and excellent technique help us believe that he has the ability to conquer Piacere in the contest for Bellezza’s devotion. About Hilary Summers I am conflicted. On a technical level there is no problem; she has the ability to sing the notes with ease and conviction. However, the quality of that voice is not very attractive to me. Her dark alto sounds like that of a hooty countertenor; I would not know Summers is female unless told so. While her contribution to the recording is a positive one, I prefer the sound of most of the other singers who have recorded this role.

Turning to competing recordings, one provides major competition for this new release. Emmanuelle Haïm on Virgin has the best group of singers: Natalie Dessay, Ann Hallenberg, Sonia Prina, and Pavol Breslik. She also uses the largest orchestra, with strings at 10/6/6/6/1, and correspondingly provides a richer orchestral sound than Curnyn. However, Haïm is more given to extremes of tempo than Curnyn, especially in part I, where she is 6:24 longer than Curnyn. Her approach to the continuo group is far from idiomatic. Rinaldo Alessandrini on Opus 111 is also worthy of consideration. His cast, Deborah York, Gemma Bertagnolli, Sara Mingardo, and Nicholas Sears, is very good, with Mingardo making a much more appealing Disinganno than Curnyn’s Summers (as is also true of Prina on Haïm’s recording). Alessandrini’s tempos are a little more lively than Curnyn’s, but not extreme (with the exception of “Come nembo” in part II). Alessandro de Marchi on Hyperion also has a reasonably good group of singers in Roberta Invernizzi, Kate Aldrich, Martin Oro, and Jörg Dürmüller. De Marchi is the only conductor to cast Disinganno with a countertenor. His is a good middle-of-the-road recording. Marc Minkowski on Erato (currently available as part of a six-disc bargain set from Warner) is the earliest of the available recordings. The best of his singers are Nathalie Stutzmann and, especially, John Elwes as Disinganno and Tempo. I have problems with the severe white tone vocal quality of his two sopranos. Isabelle Poulenard (Bellezza) and Jennifer Smith (Piacere) do not convey to me any sense of beauty or pleasure.

If I were forced to choose only one recording of Il trionfo , I would choose Haïm, with lingering regret for Curnyn’s Lucy Crowe. However, Curnyn is a strong contender and certainly worth consideration as an only or additional recording of this important early Handel work.

FANFARE: Ron Salemi
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Works on This Recording

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno, HWV 46a by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Andrew Staples (Tenor), Anna Stéphany (Mezzo Soprano), Lucy Crowe (Soprano),
Hilary Summers (Alto)
Conductor:  Christian Curnyn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Early Opera Company
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1707 

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