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CD Review: Recent Recordings of Music by Handel and Vivaldi

By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 4 September 2002

Handel: Hercules
Lynne Dawson (Iole); Anne Sofie von Otter (Dejanira); David Daniels (Lichas); Richard Croft (Hyllus); Gidon Saks (Hercules); Marcos Pujol (Priest)
Choeurs des Musiciens du Louvre
Les Musiciens du Louvre
Marc Minkowski, conductor
DGG Archiv 469 562-2 (3 cds; texts and translations in English, French and German)

Handel: Hercules

There is little doubt that Hercules is a masterpiece, but it has been singularly ill-treated on disc with only two previous commercial recordings, one from the 1960s noteworthy for its soloists (Stich-Randall, Forrester, Young and Quilico) but outdated in its general approach (moreover, never reissued on cd), and one from the 1980s led by John Eliot Gardiner. Both suffer from the scissor, something that is to this version's credit, only one aria omitted totally. The new recording benefits from Marc Minkowski's incisive conducting, a live performance ambience, and generally excellent performances. One might quibble about Anne Sofie von Otter's Dejanira, but she compensates with a vivid mad scene, even though not effacing memories of Janet Baker or Maureen Forrester. Lynne Dawson's suffering heroine is sung with poise, while Richard Croft's facile tenorizing is welcome. Gidon Saks has trouble fining down his voice, but one might argue that he is Hercules to the core. David Daniels is perfection as Lichas, the role Handel expanded from three recitatives to six arias for Mrs. Cibber to the detriment of the work's balance.

Vivaldi: Il Giustino
Dominique Labelle (Arianna); Marina Comparato (Anastasio); Francesca Provissionato (Giustino); Geraldine McGreevy (Leocasta); Laura Cherici (Amanzio); Leonardo De Lisi (Vitaliano)
Il Complesso Barocco
Alan Curtis, conductor
Virgin 7243 5 45518 2 6 (2 cds; notes in English, French and German; libretto in Italian and English)

Vivaldi: Il Giustino

Alan Curtis's interpretations of Vivaldi do not find universal favor, but I like his way with this music. It moves, he allows the orchestra to take advantage of their many solo opportunities and he enjoys presenting the work in all its glory. Despite an extensive note explaining what he calls the "judicious" cuts that have been made, it is difficult to surmise the composer's intentions as to balance, a remark that applies to the famous Orlando Furioso production that made the rounds more than ten years ago with Marilyn Horne. The singers are all in good voice, with the exception of Dominique Labelle who seems to have been struggling the day this live concert was taped. Geraldine McGreevy's more sumptuous soprano has less to sing, but she does it well, while the various mezzos are sufficiently contrasted in timbre so that we are able to tell them apart. A worthwhile contribution to the rapidly expanding discography of Vivaldi operas.

Vivaldi: La Senna Festeggiante
Juanita Lascarro (L'età dell'oro); Sonia Prina (La Virtu); Nicola Ulivieri (La Senna)
Concerto Italiano
Rinaldo Alessandrini, conductor
Opus 111 OP 30339 (texts and translations in English, French and Italian) - Musica Vocale Profane, Vol. 1

Vivaldi: La Senna Festeggiante

Vivaldi: Stabat Mater
Concerti Sacri, Clarae Stellae, Scintillate Sara Mingardo (contralto)
Concerto Italiano
Rinaldo Alessandrini (conductor)
Opus 111 - OP 30367 (texts and translations in English, French and Italian) - Musica Sacra, Vol. 1
Vivaldi: Stabat Mater

Vivaldi: Concerti e cantate da camera
Laura Polverelli (mezzo-soprano)
Opus 111 - OP 30358 (texts and translations in English, French and Italian) - Concerti da Camera, Vol. 2
Vivaldi: Concerti e cantate da camera

Opus 111 has embarked on the endurance feat of recording all of Vivaldi's music from the treasure trove of manuscripts at the National University Library in Turin, along with the Istituto per i Beni Musicali in Piemonte. I have already commented on Juditha Triumphans (Musica Sacra, Vol. 2), which got the series off to an excellent start, but it is good to see that the level is being maintained, with various artists, showing that there is no dearth of qualified musicians in Italy. Sara Mingardo's contralto puts the Stabat Mater in a different light than the numerous recent interpretations by countertenors, most of them excellent in their own right. Both here and in La Senna Festeggiante, Rinaldo Alessandrini and his band, Concerto Italiano, display great verve, while at the same time mustering intensity where required. One might simply question the conductor's practice of ending virtually every aria with a galumphing ritard. Juanita Lascarro's full soprano contrasts with the deep mezzo of Sonia Prina, but the latter should work on smoothing out her aspirated coloratura. Nicola Ulivieri may not have the lowest notes for his virtuoso role, but he navigates easily through the obstacle course set by the composer. Laura Polverelli has decided to go the virtuoso mezzo route, and the current disc offers ample justification of her decision. The cantate da camera may be set to insignificant texts, but she seizes the pretext and makes glorious music. L'Astrée, a period ensemble based in Piedmont, is clearly enjoying themselves in the various concerti on this disc, embracing such combinations as viola d'amore, two oboes, basson, two horns (RV 97), recorder, bassoon, two vioins (RV 104, La Notte), or transverse flute, oboe, bassoon and violin (RV 105), all of course with basso continuo. The concerti sacri chosen by Alessandrini to round out Mingardo's disc are equally colorful, one including two clarinets in the concertato group alongside two violins, two transverse flutes, two oboes and basson (RV 556, Concerto per la Solennità di S. Lorenzo), another for chalumeau alongside violin, oboe, three viole all'inglese (RV 579, Concerto Funebre). A series to be followed with great interest.

.Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor of Culturekiosque.com.

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