Notes and Editorial Reviews
The performances are fully worthy of the music.
Just a couple of weeks ago I had a similar double CD with Handel’s vocal music for review. It was issued by Virgin and the material was culled from complete recordings and recitals in the Virgin and EMI vaults. This Decca issue draws on the back catalogues of Deutsche Grammophon, Decca and Philips and a couple of further sources. The biggest difference is that the Virgin set also included a number of duets. Decca on the other hand offer a couple of choruses. In both compilations it is the arias that dominate. Stylistically the Virgin set has a greater dominance of period performances. The Decca is not far behind however but include some truly old-fashioned – but classical – readings. The choice of items is good with a predominance of arias that most listeners will recognise, maybe even sing along with; nothing wrong with that. The important thing is that the general standard is high and even though there is a higher percentage of non-baroque specialists among the singers here, they do a really good job.
Kiri Te Kanawa in creamy voice and Crispian Steele-Perkins on superb form open with
Let the bright seraphim from
Samson, in effect one of most magnificent duets in all Handel.
Lascia la spina from the Italian oratorio
Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno will be familiar from Handel’s first opera for London,
Lascia ch’io pianga, which came a few years later, but the aria seems to hark back to a saraband from
Almira. Cecilia Bartoli’s reading is beautifully inward and expressive. Domingo’s
Ombra mai fu, recorded in the early 2000s, is fine and Joan Sutherland’s aria from
Alcina doesn’t enunciate many of the words audibly but her trill and runs are astonishing - as always. Anne Sofie von Otter’s
Dopo notte is one of the highlights, bouncy and forward moving and with the utmost fluency. No one expects Pavarotti to be a baroque stylist but though largely un-Handelian
Cara selve has moments of sensitivity – and the voice in 1973 was still unscratched.
Renée Fleming’s creamy tones are almost on a par with Kiri Te Kanawa’s and Rolando Villazon, whose Handel recital I recently reviewed, gives a riveting, vital reading of the aria from
Tamerlano. Joyce DiDonato is the contralto of the day and she is magnificent. Russell Oberlin in the long
Ah, dolce nome, recorded as long ago as 1959, sports a warm rounded countertenor with beautiful vibrato, a far cry from the whitish sounds of Alfred Deller and the few other singers of the day. Nigel Robson opens his aria from
Jephtha with almost countertenor sounds too but then establishes his quite personal, restrained but expressive tenor voice. Kathleen Ferrier’s
He was despised is grand – but moving and Simon Preston inspires his Westminster Abbey forces to a punchy – and springy –
Zadok the Priest.
CD 2 opens with Bryn Terfel singing
Where’er you walk so softly and scaled down that he challenges even John McCormack, and Janet Baker is unsurpassed in her combination of powerful intensity and warmth in
Where shall I fly. The contrast in voice characteristics between her and Magdalena Kozena is instructive, set one after the other as here. Kozena’s much lighter voice hardly touches the ground in her flight with Jubal’s lyre. Neville Marriner avoids the old-fashioned pomposity that mar some old readings of the
Judas Maccabaeus chorus. This is followed by an aria from the same work, sung by Grace Bumbry in what must be one of her earliest recordings. It was published in 1959, when she was 22 and before she had even made her operatic debut. She was a surprisingly mature singer even then. Andreas Scholl’s clarion tones gild his aria from
Solomon and the sparkling Danielle de Niese is delightful in the long aria from
John Tomlinson, before he took on Wotan in Bayreuth, is weighty but flexible in the aria from
Messiah and it is a pleasure to hear the young Teresa Berganza in soprano repertoire. Fritz Wunderlich’s
Verdi prati from
Alcina reminds us of that he was the possessor of one of the most beautiful tenor voices in recorded history. Unique was also Marilyn Horne with her enormous voice range and sure-fire technique. Both Susan Gritton and Sylvia McNair deliver sensitive lyrical readings of their arias, whereas Thomas Quasthoff, who normally is just as sensitive, primarily has to be jubilant in
The trumpet shall sound. This is, just as much as
Let the bright seraphim, a duet for voice and trumpet, and the trumpet player should naturally be credited, which he isn’t. Since I reviewed the recital from where the aria is culled, I was able to check in the notes there and his name is Markus Schmutzler.
What better way is there to end a compilation like this than with the
Hallelujah Chorus from
Messiah? Trevor Pinnock’s reading has all the joy one could wish.
There are no texts and no liner notes, just a plain track-list identifying the participating singers. But this is not really an issue to ponder too much in depth, rather lean back, shut one’s eyes and just enjoy. Those who find the repertoire to their liking can rest assured that the performances are fully worthy of the music.
-- Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International