Handel - Italian Cantatas
Jacqueline Ogeil - director
$23 (Australian dollars)
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|Miriam Allan, soprano|
Christopher Field, alto
Michael Leighton Jones, basso
Catherine Shugg, violino
Nicole Forsyth, violino
Robin Hillier, flauto traverso
Rosanne Hunt, violoncello
Samantha Cohen, chitarrone
Jacqueline Ogeil, cembalo
Arcadia hails from Melbourne, and specialises in baroque cantata repertoire. Here they perform five of Handel's Italian cantatas, works full of fire and passion. This is virtuosic music, beautifully performed. Arcadia's first CD, Buxtehude Cantatas (TP157) has received rave responses from the press.
|Cuopre tal volta il cielo (HWV 98) Naples, 1708|
(basso, due violini e basso continuo)
Tu fedel? tu costante? (HWV 171) Venice/Rome, 1706/07
(soprano, due violini e basso continuo)
Mi palpita il cor (HWV 132c) London, 1710/1711
(contratenore, flauto traverso e basso continuo)
Spande ancor a mio dispetto (HWV165) Hanover 1710
(basso, due violini e basso continuo)
Amarilli vezzosa (Il duello amoroso) (HWV 82) copyist’s bill dated 28 August 1708
(soprano, alto, due violini e basso continuo)
|Handel’s Italian cantatas are still amongst the least known of his compositions; hardly surprising, though, since there are over a hundred of them and, until recently, most have languished unpublished in a variety of manuscript collections. That such a state of affairs is a great shame indeed is amply demonstrated by this new CD from Melbourne-based ensemble Arcadia. Most of Handel’s cantatas date from relatively early in his career, and particularly from the three years he spent in Italy. Do not assume, however, that this means that they are unpolished, student pieces. Far from it; these are all fresh, vibrant works – the first fruits of Handel’s early maturity – and here they are given the strongest of advocacy by Jacqueline Ogeil and her excellent team of musicians.|
All three singers on this disc are very much at home in the world of the late Baroque; indeed, one of the principal attractions of this CD is the quality of the singing. Soprano Miriam Allan has a clear, bright voice with such purity of tone that comparisons with Emma Kirkby are almost inevitable. Nonetheless, she has a colour and a personality of her own and is able, for example, to bring out the playfulness of the cantata Tu fedel? Tu costante?, particularly in the dance-like aria "Se non ti piace" (Track 11). In short, it is an exquisite voice, perfect for this repertoire. Countertenor Christopher Field has recently returned from a period of study at the Royal Academy of Music in London and his singing has gone from strength to strength. There is now a real sense of confidence to his voice, and throughout his entire range. His lower and middle registers are slightly reminiscent of French countertenor Gérard Lesne in their strength and clarity, and there is a sweetness to his upper register that is a delight to hear. Listen, for example, to the aria "Pietoso sguardo" (Track 24) from the cantata Il duello amoroso; the extended melismas on the word "bugiardo" ("deceitful") are simply breathtaking, not just for their technical precision but for the fact that Field makes it sound so effortless. Perhaps Australia will soon be adding to the small but select line-up of superstar countertenors. Who knows? One thing is sure, though; Christopher Field, like soprano Miriam Allan, is a singer to watch for. Rounding out the trio of singers – and adding a necessary touch of gravitas – is the well-established bass Michael Leighton Jones. His two cantatas have not quite the dramatic punch as the others but they are both well performed and Leighton Jones decorates the da capo repeats with considerable style and taste.
For instrumental accompaniment, harpsichordist and director Jacqueline Ogeil has opted for one instrument to a part and in doing so clearly demonstrates that – in this repertoire at least – less is more. Textures are clear, rhythms are sharply defined, and the ensemble as a whole blends well with the solo voices. The sonatas with which two of the cantatas open are particularly well-played and give a good indication of this ensemble’s merits: allegros are dashing and spritely, with typical Baroque sequences tossed between the two violins, while the slow movements are touchingly wistful. Indeed, the instrumental performances are so fine that I look forward to a disc of trio sonatas from this group at some point in the future.
This is, then, an immensely satisfying CD. It is heartening, too, to see an Australian ensemble taking the risk of recording a CD of lesser known repertoire; bold programming like this – alongside top-notch performances – is the only way to make an impact internationally, and Jacqueline Ogeil and her colleagues deserve the widest of audiences for this exceptional disc. For me it is one of the finest discs to come out of Australia all last year.
© Mark Shepheard
3MBS-FM’s Libretto, Feb-March 2005
Who knows the reason for the recent special interest in Handel cantatas by singers and record companies--but for the most part listeners have benefited because several of these recordings have allowed us to discover some relatively young and little-known yet extraordinarily gifted, career-building singers worthy of world-class stature. Here is the latest entry, this time from Australian label Tall Poppies, and these performances--for the most part--rank among the best available.
To get right to the point, Miriam Allan is an excellent soprano, her voice bright and clear, her technique fluid and accurate, her tone very easy on the ear, her delivery warm and personable. Likewise alto Christopher Field, who impresses as one born to this music, his phrasing and breath control so easy and free, and his tone round and beautiful. Bass Michael Leighton Jones certainly isn't bad, but he doesn't get the best music to sing and, especially compared to his colleagues, his Handelian style overall is more deliberate and the recitatives less engaging. He tends to articulate his runs by punching (a common and intentional but distracting technique) and in HWV 98, the disc's opening, Jones' hard, aggressive delivery combines with the too-reverberant acoustic (interestingly, only a factor in the program's two bass cantatas) to leave us imagining that a few small adjustments in engineering and in the interpretation could have made a huge and positive difference. However, Jones shows he can modify his voice and manner, delivering a more sensitively shaded performance of HWV 165.
The Arcadia players are a first-rate ensemble--spirited, articulate, and capable of turn-on-a-dime expressive gestures--and kudos must go to director/harpsichordist Jacqueline Ogeil for the performances' pervading sense of enthusiasm and spontaneity. Although I still prefer my reference versions for the indicated works, I'm very impressed by the singing here--and you will be too. I look forward to hearing more from all concerned.
Three fine voices and an ensemble of impressive refinement create a programme of less familiar pieces composed by Handel in the first decade of the 18th century when he was resident in Italy supported by aristocratic families in Venice, Rome and Naples. In these Cantatas we hear Handel very much as the operatic composer, with a dramatic range technically the envy of many. The soprano works were written for Margherita Durastanti who, as one among the highest paid singers in Europe, was brought much later to London to sing with Handel's company.
The Cantatas on this CD are Tu fedel? tu costante? for soprano, sung by the clear and agile Miriam Allan; the two bass Cantatas, Spande ancor a mio dispetto and Cuopre tal volt ail cielo with the resonant and smooth voice of Michael Leighton Jones; and Mi palpita il cor with the countertenor Christopher Field and a mellow baroque flute.
The only Cantata in which Handel brought soprano and alto together was Amarilli vezzosa which makes an attractive end to a lovely programme. The ensemble Accademia Arcadia, simply known as Arcadia, is Australia's first ensemble to specialise in the performance of sacred and secular cantatas of the Baroque, and has already made an impressive début with Buxtehude cantatas for this label.
© Patric Standford,
West Yorkshire, UK 15 April 2006
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