Here's an Ode for St. Cecilia's Day to rival the superb performances on Trevor Pinnock's fine Archiv recording -- and it has the advantage of including the lovely Italian cantata Cecilia, volgi un sguardo, which originally appeared in concert with the other of Handel's extended St. Cecilia works, Alexander's Feast. While the "big-ticket" item here may be the Ode, the cantata is where you'll find the best singing and most interesting music. Okay, Carolyn Sampson's "The soft complaining flute" from the Ode is a highlight--also "But oh! What art can teach", with beautifully drawn phrases and perfectly struck, mellifluously intoned pitches in the difficult leaping melody. Tenor James Gilchrist shines in theRead more coloratura of his "Sharp violins proclaim", and throughout there's energy aplenty, especially exciting in sections such as the Gilbert & Sullivan-like "The trumpet's loud clangour", for tenor solo and chorus. The orchestra also delivers ideally articulated, equally vigorous accompaniment and snappy instruments-only movements, all recorded in detailed, vibrant sound.
The cantata, for which I could find no other modern recording, consists of three arias, a duet, and a few short recitatives. All of the melodic material, beginning with the tenor's first aria, "La Virtute è un vero nume" (Virtue is a true god) and continuing through the final duet, is first-class Handel, and the two singers seem even more at home in this throughly Italian-style work, really warming to the lyricism of the language and to Handel's immediately ingratiating lines, which are often highly ornamented yet never lose momentum or natural melodic flow. Gilchrist displays none of the hard edge to his voice that appears occasionally in the Ode's more intense moments, and it would be hard to imagine a better fit for singer and music than his performance of the aria "Splenda l'alba in oriente".
And if that's not enough to satisfy, try Sampson's following three-part aria, a captivating blend of brilliant fast passages and a slow, impassioned middle section that the soprano executes with impressive technique and style. Again, we hear nothing of the nervous vibrato that she sometimes allows in louder, higher-register sections of the Ode; instead, the singing flows smoothly, eloquently, accurately, with bright, clear tone. The duet is a gem that, along with the other music in this work, deserves wide exposure. At just under 30 minutes, this cantata would be easy to program with other pieces--and it makes a terrific, audience-pleasing showpiece for the two soloists. A pleasure from beginning to end!
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Ode for St Cecilia's Day, HWV 76by George Frideric Handel
James Gilchrist (Tenor),
Carolyn Sampson (Soprano)
Period: Baroque Written: 1739; London, England