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By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 27 JUNE 2007—Three generations of composers – born in three different centuries – whose working lives cover a period of 150 years illustrate the evolution of Italian music in that period. Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) is here represented by his Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, an astounding work in which the Narrator describes the combat between the lovers, with only an occasional interjection from the actors themselves. Rolando VillazĂłn is a total surprise in this repertoire, but his collaboration with Emmanuelle HaĂŻm has evoked the enthusiasm of both parties. It is unusual to hear a voice of such warmth in Monteverdi’s music these days when a more classic approach is mostly de rigueur. And the tenor – as we can hear in the accompanying Making of … DVD – demonstrates his love of this music which is new to him as a performer. But HaĂŻm’s talents as provocatrice have resulted in readings of Monteverdi’s OrfeoHandel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo as well as other CDs of his music, or even Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas that have not pleased everyone, though we find her hands-on approach to our liking, making the music live. And like some of her mentors she has gone beyond the bounds of the baroque world to find singers with the same gift of communication. The madrigals that round out the album allow us to hear Patrizia Ciofi and Topi Lehtipuu at greater length.

Vivaldi’s sacred and secular music are not that far apart from one another. Philippe Jaroussky’s earlier Vivaldi CD gave us five cantatas and two arias while here he offers 15 operatic arias, a domain that is becoming more widely known. And once again we are open-mouthed at the range and technique – not to mention the colors – of this young man. Of course, the collaboration of Jean-Christophe Spinosi is crucial, but it is also the variety to be found among the arias, from the familiar tempest-tossed rage or the pathetic lament to the charm of a simple aria with pizzicato strings, all rendered with aplomb. For those who still have doubts about Vivaldi’s operatic production (if any such there are), this CD will be enlightening.

Simone Kermes has come to our attention on a number of discs, including Handel’s Rodelinda in which she takes the title role, and once again we are struck by the instrumental purity and technical assurance in this CD of motets, full of perils. The contrast with the warmer, Italianate if you will, sound of Patrizia Ciofi is striking, though we find both approaches valid. Andrea Marcon and the Venice Baroque Orchestra demonstrate once again that Italian baroque orchestras are on a level with their foreign competition. But it is the composer who takes center stage, disproving Stravinsky’s bon mot that Vivaldi composed the "same form over and over". 

Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater has never lacked for partisans  but Fabio Biondi’s sometimes reckless approach almost turns the more rapid sections of the work into extracts from comic opera. David Daniels and Dorothea Röschmann find a good blend in their duets, while each is gratified with a solo Salve Regina. Daniels has one of the warmest countertenor voices today, while Röschmann’s Teutonic background is tempered by enthusiasm, making this a fascinating if not first-choice performance of the Stabat Mater 

And here we have Emmanuelle Haïm once again, leading an enlarged Concert d’Astrée in Handel’s Trionfo del Tempo et Disinganno. Let us not forget that Handel spent a couple of years in Italy when he was in his 20s, establishing his credentials as an Italian composer, and this oratorio demonstrates that he was already a master. In addition, he made use of earlier material by himself and other composers, but totally transforming the pieces so that they become pure Handel. And of course he used some of these and also some of the new sections later in life, always ringing changes. Natalie Dessay’s Bellezza is the leading figure, and her musicianship is put to good use here, as she has an amazing range of arias, from sustained adagio to rapid-fire allegro. Anne Hallenberg’s Piacere comes a close second, with her clear mezzo able to fill out the languor of "Lascia la spina" and still rouse us with her final aria. Sonia Prina’s contralto offers a strong contrast to her colleagues, her duet with tenor Pavol Breslik fascinating in the aural picture created. But it is Handel who is center stage, and he is admirably served.

Vivaldi Heroes
Philippe Jaroussky, countertenor
Ensemble Matheus
Jean-Christophe Spinosi, conductor
Virgin 00946 363414 2 2 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Amor Sacro
Vivaldi: Mottetti

Simone Kermes, soprano
Venice Baroque Orchestra
Andrea Marcon, conductor
Archiv 477 5980 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Monteverdi: Combattimento
Patrizia Ciofi (soprano); Rolando Villazón (tenor); Topi Lehtipuu (tenor) Le Concert d’Astrée
Emanuelle HaĂŻm, conductor
Virgin 0946 363402 2 7 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Pergolesi: Stabat Mater
Dorothea Röschmann (soprano); David Daniels (countertenor); Europa Galante Fabio Biondi, conductor
Virgin 0946 363340 2 8 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Handel: Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno
Natalie Dessay (Bellezza); Anne Hallenberg (Piacere); Sonia Prina (Disinganno); Pavol Beslik (Tempo)
Le Concert d’Astrée
Emmanuelle HaĂŻm, conductor
Virgin 0946 363428 2 5 (2 cds; texts and translations in English, French and German) 

Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor of Culturekiosque.com

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CD Reviews: Handel's Hercules;  Vivaldi's Il Giustino; Vivaldi's La Senna Festeggiante; Vivaldi's Stabat Mater; Vivaldi's Concerti e cantate da camera

Opera Festival Review: Beaune International Festival of Baroque Music
Festival de Radio France and Montpellier

CD Reviews: Baroque Opera and Sacred Music

Handel According to William Christie, Renée Fleming, Marc Minkowski, Maria Bayo and Skip Sempé

Heavily Handel

Handel: Admeto; Rodelinda

A Weekend at the Festival de Beaune

CD Reviews: Handel Operas

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