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Handel: Italian Cantatas Vol 5 / Bonizzoni, Invemizzi, Basso, Et Al

Release Date: 03/31/2009 
Label:  Glossa   Catalog #: 921525   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Romina BassoYetzabel Arias FernandezRoberta Invernizzi
Conductor:  Fabio Bonizzoni
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Risonanza
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Another essential addition to the most rewarding Handel series of the decade

David Vickers calls this "the most rewarding Handelian discographic undertaking of the decade." High praise, but it’s hard to imagine any praise being too high when listening to this bewitching recording. Fabio Bonizzoni conducts with a feeling for the drama and a superbly delineated line-up of soloists. Before anyone cries "favouritism," the soprano Roberta Invernizzi is, as far as I know, no relation!

-- Gramophone [6/2009]

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HANDEL Clori, Tirsi e Fileno Fabio Bonizzoni, cond; Roberta Invernizzi ( Tirsi ); Yetzabel Arias Fernández ( Clori ); Romina Basso ( Fileno ); La Risonanza GLOSSA 921525 (74:59 Text and Translation)

This fifth release in Glossa’s continuing survey of the cantate con strumenti (cantatas accompanied by instruments, in addition to continuo) of Handel turns to a work he wrote during 1707, his first period of service with the Marquis Francesco Maria Ruspoli. Like another work of roughly the same time, Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, Clori, Tirsi e Fileno was at least in part a response to an opera ban by the zealously reformist pope, Clement XI. Aristocratically sponsored Roman cantatas came increasingly to reflect the theatrical content and structure of operas, though on a much reduced scale. In this case, we get a shepherd’s love triangle anchored by Clori, who plays her two suitors off one another. There are the usual instances of conversations overheard from concealed locations, leading Tirsi and Fileno ultimately to craft peace on a solid foundation of Clori-dislike. The 1708 version of the cantata, heard on this recording, adds a final moralizing trio about the importance of love. This might be thought superfluous to the plot and out of character for the work, and so it is; but Handel had traveled in the meantime to Naples, where the cantata was one of several pieces of his to be performed in celebration of a ducal wedding. Under those circumstances, the original, misogynistic conclusion of Clori, Tirsi e Fileno would have done the composer few favors.

The cantata’s slight framework of incident proves a typically rich mine of emotional characterization for the young Handel. Clori’s “Va col canto lusingando” gives a serenely majestic turn to the composer’s usual pastoral mode, as the shepherdess sets herself up for one of her two suitors. Fileno’s “Sai perché l’onda del fiume” and “Povera fedeltà” are a pair of haunting minor-key numbers about forlorn love and neglected loyalty, respectively, made more intimate by restricting their bass lines to a solo cello during each verse. Tirsi’s wistfully reflective “Un sospiretto” is answered by Fileno’s “Come la rondinella” with its air of delicate hope perfectly caught in a pair of lengthy archlute solos and accompaniment. The duet “Fermati! No, crudel!” wittily uses pauses and counterpoint to give us the musical equivalent of an argument between Tirsi’s rejection and Clori’s protestations of innocence. Tirsi’s “Tra le fere la fera più cruda” is an almost hectoring fury aria that Handel cleverly arranges for Clori to trump in “Barbaro, tu non credi,” simulating both anger and pathos with an almost over-the-top theatricality.

Handel frequently mined effective material in his early Italian cantatas for later works. He must have been especially pleased with the way Clori, Tirsi e Fileno turned out, for it contains several examples. Clori’s “Amo Tirsi” appeared the following year in Agrippina as “Se vuoi pace, o volto amato,” then became “As when the dove” in the 1718 Acis and Galatea . The duets “Scherzano sul tuo volto” and “Fermati! No, crudel” were transferred into Rinaldo without a change of text, while Tirsi’s “Un sospiretto” was given a similar treatment in Rodrigo . (Beecham used it, too, as the only sung part of his Handel-based ballet, Love in Bath .) Both it and Fileno’s “Come la rondinella” were featured as well in the 1732 Acis and Galatea . Even the overture was put to multiple uses, both in the pastiche opera Oreste and as the opening movement in a harpsichord suite.

I find myself in agreement with Brian Robins ( Fanfare 30:4), who reviewed a previous release in this series, regarding the merits of Roberta Invernizzi. She is an eloquent Tirsi, the possessor of a fine soprano who not only handles lyric passages and coloratura with ease, but also interprets the words in both recitatives and arias. Nearly as much can be said for contralto Romina Basso, whose darker chest register gives way to an almost soprano-like brilliance in her voice’s upper reaches. I previously praised her in Tolomeo , under the baton of Alan Curtis, but felt she was largely wasted in a relatively minor role endowed with some of the composer’s least interesting music. Here her excellent breath control, coupled with the melancholy vocal coloration of her lower range, makes for a memorable Fileno. Like Invernizzi, she is very much in the part at all times. This is unfortunately not something that can be said of Yetzabel Arias Fernández. Her vocal production is the kind that focuses almost entirely on vowels. The results are attractive purely as sound, but there is no enunciation of the text—much less any evidence of the manipulative but charming shepherdess who leads her two beaus around on emotional leashes.

Fabio Bonizzoni deserves a large share of praise for this recording, and for the others in this series. He avoids both skittish tempos and the almost robotic, anti-theatrical performances favored in some quarters of the Baroque revival. (Fernández’s difficulties in this regard are of her own making, and not the kind that any music director can correct.) Sensible tempos, theatrical awareness, and a felicitous touch with orchestral coloration are what this cantata requires, and what Bonizzoni delivers. He’s immeasurably helped by La Risonanza, whose 17 members (if one includes the conductor’s own harpsichord continuo) play with a sensitive yet energetic touch.

There are other recordings of Clori, Tirsi e Fileno in the current catalog. One, on New Classical Adventure 60188, features nervous, high-speed conducting by Wolfgang Katschner, and a countertenor, David Cordier, who suffers from uneven production and severe intonational problems. These drawbacks put it out of the running, but Glossa’s has more formidable competition: Nicholas McGegan with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, on Harmonia Mundi 2907348. It is a less detailed reading than Bonizzoni’s; he gets more out of his orchestral soloists, but otherwise provides an equally valid attempt to bring this little dramatic cantata to life. Countertenor Drew Minter is a pleasantly sung and effective Fileno; he is cooler than Basso, but still responsive to most dramatic points. Loraine Hunt Lieberson is more effective at getting the words out than is Fernández, but still seems far too reticent to unbend and play the coquette. Jill Feldman’s soprano is acidic in its lower range. Her Tirsi swallows consonants, and remains for the most part a dramatic cipher. Overall, I give the palm to Glossa. Invernizzi and Basso are better than their counterparts are, while Bonizzoni and La Risonanza find more life in the score. If you’re looking for a Clori, Tirsi e Fileno , this is the one to get, and it’s definitely worth getting.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Cor fedele, HWV 96 "Clori, Tirsi e Fileno" by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Romina Basso (Mezzo Soprano), Yetzabel Arias Fernandez (Soprano), Roberta Invernizzi (Soprano)
Conductor:  Fabio Bonizzoni
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Risonanza
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1707; Italy 

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