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Beauty Of The Baroque / Danielle De Niese


Release Date: 01/10/2012 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 001586902  
Composer:  John DowlandGeorge Frideric HandelHenry PurcellClaudio Monteverdi,   ... 
Performer:  Danielle De NieseAndreas Scholl
Conductor:  Harry Bicket
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Concert

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



BEAUTY OF THE BAROQUE Danielle de Niese (s); Andreas Scholl (ct 1 ); Harry Bicket, cond; English Concert DECCA 15869 (56:50 Text and Translation)


DOWLAND Come Again, Sweet Love. What If I Never Speed? HANDEL Serse: Ombra mai fu. Samson: Read more class="ARIAL12i">Let the Bright Seraphim. Acis and Galatea: Heart, the Seat of Soft Delight. The Triumph of Time and Truth: Guardian Angels. 1 Rodelinda: Io t’abbraccio. PURCELL Dido and Aeneas: When I Am Laid in Earth. MONTEVERDI L’incoronazione di Poppea: 1 Pur ti miro. Scherzi musicali: Quel sguardo sdegnosetto. PERGOLESI Stabat Mater: 1 Stabat Mater dolorosa. BACH Cantata 203: Sich üben im lieben. Cantata 208: Schafe können sicher weiden


When I received the promotional copy of this CD for review, I thought to myself, “Here we go again. Polygram is trying to push another pretty face.” The only real difference between the presentation of this CD and those of Elina Garanca, Mojca Erdmann, etc., was that Danielle de Niese was photographed in some truly stunning and beautiful gowns that made her look elegant, not like a high-class call girl. Try as I might, however, I could not find who designed these gorgeous dresses! I found out by contacting publicist Rebecca Davis that the designers were Vivienne Westwood (cover), Dior for the blue and green dress, Elie Saab for the red, and Valentino for the pale green (off-white) dress. And, of course, I was afraid that the overblown visual presentation (no fewer than 24 pages of knock-your-eyes-out photos) would overwhelm whatever vocal talent de Niese possesses.


This time, I was delightfully surprised. De Niese has a stunningly beautiful if somewhat small voice, with a timbre that so closely resembles Kathleen Battle that in a blindfold test you would be forgiven for thinking it were the embattled former star of the Metropolitan Opera. She is also a superb interpreter—listen to the way she sings the two opening songs by John Dowland, and you’ll be easily convinced. In the interview included on my promo DVD, de Niese mentions that this is her third CD, the first two being entirely devoted to the music of Handel and then Mozart, but this time she really sat down and thought hard about the selections she’d include and the manner of presentation. She has sung at the Metropolitan Opera since 1998, when she was only 19—the youngest singer admitted into the Lindemann Young Artists’ Program. That would make her 31 at the time of recording; certainly not old, but no longer an ingénue, either.


Despite her soprano range, she sings “Ombra mai fu” in the original mezzo key, but like so many recordings of this aria in the past 15 years, she omits the recitative. Why, I wonder? The recital is less than an hour, and that recit is so beautiful. Her performance of the aria is much more tender than Cecilia Bartoli’s otherwise excellent version, and on the long-held E de Niese drains the voice of vibrato before bringing it back in for the last second.


In “Let the Bright Seraphim,” one hears the difference between de Niese and Battle: Her voice is not as silvery bright up top at full volume, but rather a metal of a softer color. Nevertheless, her florid technique is equally as secure, and her vivacity of interpretation much the same, and I like her variations in the repeat of the aria. Following this, she takes the mood way down to Dido’s lament “When I Am Laid in Earth,” and her depth of feeling in this aria is simply astounding, on a level with the legendary recording by Janet Baker.


Perhaps I should have expected more than the usual bird of passage from the fact that Decca pairs her here with Harry Bicket and his English Concert, surely one of the finest Baroque conductors and interpreters of our day. They are consistently responsive to de Niese’s moods and variants; note, for instance, the little extra flourish played by the trumpeter (unidentified on my copy) in “Let the Bright Seraphim,” or the way de Niese and Bicket work out the entrance and improvisation of the various instruments in Monteverdi’s “Quel sguardo sdegnosetto.” This is artistry of the very highest order, not something done for a stunt.


Also of a very high order is the participation of Andreas Scholl, without question the possessor of the most beautiful countertenor voice in the world (but, as I’ve had occasion to mention in the past, not the clearest of diction). Both artists—and by this point I certainly considered de Niese an artist and not just a voice—approach Monteverdi’s final duet of Poppea and Nerone with exactly the right tone of sensuality and heightened expectations of intimacy. I haven’t heard this music sung this well since Carole Bogard and Charles Bressler on the old Cambridge LP set from 1967 (conducted by Alan Curtis). Scholl also appears on the heart-rending duet of Rodelinda and Bertarido from Handel’s opera and Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater dolorosa,” and in each encounter they are on a very high level. If I may be permitted one caveat, however, it is also her diction that is not consistently clear, even in English. Nevertheless, her performance of the “Wedding” Cantata aria by Bach is simply terrific.


Being impressed by this album, I took her 2009 CD of Mozart arias out of the library to listen to and was equally impressed by her styling and interpretive qualities, but here I noted that in certain fast coloratura passages (such as “Exsultate, jubilate”) she sounded awkward, even a little clumsy, and her trills were uneven. To my ears, this sounded like a small voice that was already growing to lyric soprano dimensions, and the singer was having trouble negotiating the fiorature while her voice changed. The fact that she has managed to adjust her voice for this album (witness “Let the Bright Seraphim”) tells me that de Niese has found a good teacher to help her.


My promo copy, focusing so hard on her looks and so little on the music, doesn’t include any song texts or translations, but the commercial copy of the CD has these. One other thing, which I picked up from the interview on the DVD: De Niese is a very hyper personality, totally wrapped up in her music and its interpretation. I hope she can retain that personal enthusiasm for her performances for a long time to come. I’d go so far as to predict that this album will become a classic, studied by other singers and conductors for ideas on the presentation of the Baroque repertoire. Welcome to the ranks of the elite, hon.


FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

1. Firste Booke of Songes or Ayres: no 17, Come againe, sweet love doth now envite by John Dowland
Performer:  Danielle De Niese (Soprano)
Conductor:  Harry Bicket
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Concert
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 1597; England 
2. Third and Last Booke of Songes or Aires: no 9, What if I never speede by John Dowland
Performer:  Danielle De Niese (Soprano)
Conductor:  Harry Bicket
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Concert
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 1603; England 
3. Serse, HWV 40: Ombra mai fu "Largo" by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Danielle De Niese (Soprano)
Conductor:  Harry Bicket
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Concert
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1738; London, England 
4. Samson, HWV 57: Let the bright Seraphim by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Danielle De Niese (Soprano)
Conductor:  Harry Bicket
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Concert
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1743; London, England 
5. Dido and Aeneas, Z 626: Thy hand, Belinda...When I am laid in earth by Henry Purcell
Performer:  Danielle De Niese (Soprano)
Conductor:  Harry Bicket
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Concert
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1689; England 
6. Acis and Galatea, HWV 49: Heart, the seat of soft delight by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Danielle De Niese (Soprano)
Conductor:  Harry Bicket
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Concert
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1718/1736; London, England 
7. L'Incoronazione di Poppea: Pur ti miro [Final Duet] by Claudio Monteverdi
Performer:  Danielle De Niese (Soprano), Andreas Scholl (Countertenor)
Conductor:  Harry Bicket
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Concert
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1642; Venice, Italy 
8. Madrigals, Book 10: Quel sguardo sdegnosetto by Claudio Monteverdi
Performer:  Danielle De Niese (Soprano)
Conductor:  Harry Bicket
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Concert
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1632; Italy 
9. Rodelinda, HWV 19: Io t'abbraccio by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Danielle De Niese (Soprano), Andreas Scholl (Countertenor)
Conductor:  Harry Bicket
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Concert
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1725; London, England 
10. Triumph of Time and Truth, HWV 71: Guardian angels, oh, protect me by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Danielle De Niese (Soprano)
Conductor:  Harry Bicket
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Concert
Period: Baroque 
11. Stabat Mater: Stabat Mater dolorosa by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
Performer:  Danielle De Niese (Soprano), Andreas Scholl (Countertenor)
Conductor:  Harry Bicket
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Concert
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1736; Pozzuoli, Italy 
12. Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten, BWV 202 "Wedding Cantata": Sich üben im Lieben by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Danielle De Niese (Soprano)
Conductor:  Harry Bicket
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Concert
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1718-1723; Cöthen, Germany 
13. Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd!, BWV 208 "Hunt Cantata": Schafe können sicher weiden by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Danielle De Niese (Soprano)
Conductor:  Harry Bicket
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Concert
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1713; Cöthen, Germany 

Sound Samples

Come again: Sweet love doth now invite
What if I never speed?
Serse, HWV 40 / Act 1: Ombra mai fù
Samson, HWV 57 / Act 3: Let the bright seraphim
Dido and Aeneas / Act 3: Thy hand, Belinda...When I am laid in earth
Acis and Galatea: Heart, the seat of soft delight
L'incoronazione di Poppea / Act 3: Pur ti miro
Quel sguardo sdegnosetto
Rodelinda / Act 2: Io t'abbraccio
The Triumph Of Time And Truth, HWV71: Guardian angels, oh, protect me
Stabat Mater
Cantata No.202 "Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten" (Wedding Cantata), BWV 202: Sich üben im Lieben
Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd, Cantata BWV 208: Schafe können sicher weiden (Sheep may safely graze)

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