Notes and Editorial Reviews
Apollo e Dafne. Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno:
Günther Wich, cond; Helen Donath (
); Peter Christoph Runge (
); Cappella Coloniensis (period instruments)
PHOENIX EDITION 192 (53:01
Text and Translation)
Apollo e Dafne
(also known from its opening words as
La terra è liberata
) is Handel’s most ambitious cantata. Started in Italy in 1709 and completed in Hanover in 1710, it is a miniature opera for two characters. The music is of the highest quality, from first note to last.
This recording joins six others in the current catalog. Recorded in 1978, it is also the oldest of available recordings of this magnificent work. Cappella Coloniensis claims to be the first group to perform in accordance with historical performance practice (from its founding in 1954), although its sound is closer to that of the modern orchestra than what we have come to expect from period-instrument groups today. Günther Wich leads a reasonably paced performance, although a couple of movements are a little slow by today’s standards. The delayed cadences added by 19th-century editors such as Chrysander are observed. There are almost no decorations in
repeats, except for the occasional cadenza. The one exception is Apollo’s final aria, “Cara pianta,” which contains
ornaments that are a model of how such things should be done.
The two soloists are both very good. Peter Christoph Runge has a strong, beautiful voice. He is adept at coloratura without a need to aspirate and handles the wide-ranging tessitura with ease. Helen Donath is of course well known from many recordings. She contributes a well-sung performance as Dafne. Some might object to the amount of vibrato she uses, but I am not among them.
All of the competing performances, recorded between 1985 and 2006, are more recognizably influenced by the current historical practice movement. Each has its attractions, but none can truly be considered
prima inter pares
. Because three of these recordings have not been reviewed in
, I will test the editor’s patience with a detailed comparison of the available recordings.
Nicholas McGegan’s recording on Harmonia Mundi features a somewhat gruff Apollo in David Thomas, better in the boastful, extroverted music than the tender movements. His Dafne, Judith Nelson, sings well but is not a forceful personality. It is difficult to believe she would have the strength to defy Apollo. McGegan’s orchestra plays well but is distantly recorded in relation to the voices. Because the cantata lacks an overture, McGegan adds a movement from the Concerto Grosso, op. 3/1, as an overture, and rounds out the disc with an oboe concerto.
Teldec has the best vocalists. Thomas Hampson and Roberta Alexander create real, believable characters, and Hampson, though a baritone, sings even the lowest notes of the role with ease and strength. Unfortunately, their performances are undermined by the conducting of Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Some arias are simply too fast. In Dafne’s first aria, “Felicisima quest’alma,” Harnoncourt cuts the
after the introductory ritornello. Unhistorically, an organ is used to accompany about half the recitatives and arias. The cantata is paired with Telemann’s cantata
Bernard Labadie on Dorian contributes a very strong performance. The soloists, Karina Gauvin and Russell Braun, are excellent. Braun, who is a baritone, cannot reach the very lowest note in the score but is otherwise not challenged by the tessitura. My only real objection to this recording is that Braun’s
ornaments often consist of unhistorical rewriting of the vocal line. Gauvin, on the other hand, gets things right. The disc also includes an excellent performance of the motet
. This is perhaps the recording to get if you must limit yourself to one.
Roy Goodman conducts a generally good performance on Naxos that can especially be recommended to those on a budget. Olga Pasichnyk is very good as Dafne. Robert Pomakov’s Apollo is not bad, but he can be a little rough in coloratura and a little weak on the highest and lowest notes. Its discmate is a recording of the incidental music to
, which consists of music from the extended overture to Handel’s
rearranged by some unknown hand, who added a movement of his own.
Jed Wentz on Brilliant is generally good, but some numbers are too fast. The best singing comes from the Apollo of Tom Sol; Nicola Wemyss’s Dafne is well sung but a bit too reserved to create a strong character. This disc also includes the music from
I have not heard the recording conducted by Simon Standage on Chandos. In
19:3, David Johnson praised the conductor, the orchestra, and the Dafne of Nancy Argenta but found little pleasure in Michael George’s Apollo. It is paired with another Handel cantata,
Crudel tiranno Amor.
The listener has a wealth of available performances to choose from. For its strong vocal contributions from Donath and Runge, the Phoenix Edition recording is certainly worth considering.
FANFARE: Ron Salemi