Monday, May 3, 2010

Handel on eMusic: Opera


Operas and related works

Agrippina. Véronique Gens, etc; Le Grande Ecurie et la Chambre du Roy/Jean-Claude Malgoire [Dynamic] 82.

Gramophone said "Malgoire’s grasp on Handelian drama has improved since his CBS recordings made in the 1970s... But this live performance is scrappy, and there are problems... The singing is better here than on some Dynamic recordings, but there [are] uncomfortable moments... The impressive singing of high countertenor Philippe Jaroussky outclasses any previous Nero on disc". Fanfare reviewed the DVD version; irrelevant to us is the "stupefying vulgarity, silliness, and superficiality of the production". Comparing the musical performance with that of John Eliot Gardiner's recording on Philips, the reviewer has good things to say about the cast but says "The only case where Dynamic clearly carries off the palm is in the alto role of Nero". The reviewer doesn't compare Malgoire with McGegan, although he does say of McGegan's recording, "good as it is, Gardiner’s version seems to me broadly preferable". Classics Today gave it 8/7, saying "The cast is excellent, with a few standouts... Malgoire's leadership is bright and perky, with the recits paced conversationally, and his band plays well--the winds are particularly spicy". Classics Today France gave it 7/6.

Agrippina. Sally Bradshaw, etc; Capella Savaria/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 69.

Not liked by Gramophone : "I have to admit that by the end of the opera—or indeed considerably sooner than that—I wearied of the insouciance, the detachment, the want of real feeling expressed through the music. There is little atmosphere, little sense of character, little sense of anything other than an intellectual game with human emotion, and I can't believe that is what Handel intended".

Amadigi di Gaula. Maria Riccarda Wesseling, etc; Al Ayre Español/Eduardo Lopez Banzo [Ambroisie] 67.

One of Fanfare's reviewers said "You could probably listen to 30 or more Handel operas before you found one that was different from most of the rest... I have concluded that it’s quite possible that Handel really didn’t like or understand the genre of opera". She has complaints about some of the singers and the orchestral sound; nevertheless, "Since there appears to be no other recording of this opera available, it is strongly recommended for its musical quality in spite of the misgivings cited above". Another said "Al Ayre Español is a bright, slightly edgy ensemble, precise in its intonation and sharp in its attacks... I wish that so seldom performed a Handel opera as Amadigi had a better all around cast". MusicWeb said "If you’re happy to give it a go, though, you certainly won’t be disappointed because the performance is very strong". Gramophone didn't hold back: "the performance is dreadful... abrasive and ugly playing... The singers are uniformly average... This performance is devoid of affection and utterly lacking in good judgement". And yet it got full marks from BBC Music and was that month's Opera Choice: "I doubt very much if readers will be disappointed either by the singing and sympathetic instrumental playing, or by Handel’s consistently beguiling, often sensuous music".

Ariodante. Lorraine Hunt, etc; Freiburger Barockorchester/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 89.

Gramophone called this "A fine set, which I recommend very warmly", while BBC Music gave it 4-5 and said it is "a very welcome addition to an outstanding series". gave it 4-5-4. Reviewing a reissue of this in 2007, American Record Guide rated it highly, saying in comparison to other recordings "McGegan and his cast convey a more direct theatrical feeling of baroque lyric drama".

Atalanta. Dominique Labelle, etc; Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan [Magnatune] 54.

Disc 2 is here. No reviews found.

Deidamia. Julianne Baird, etc; Brewer Chamber Orchestra/Edward Brewer [Albany] 65.

Mixed reviews. The Fanfare reviewer heard "a cast of remarkably high and well-matched qualities" and said it "deserves to be snapped up by anyone with a taste for Handel's superb and too long neglected operas", whereas Nicholas Anderson in BBC Music said of Act 1 in particular, "disappointing performances from all the soloists accompanied by thin and scrawny period-instrument string-playing" (score 2/5 for performance, 3/5 for sound). Stanley Sadie praised it in Gramophone, saying "I am glad to have this first CD recording of the work". On , it gets 5/10: "The cast is vocally average but all the singers are quite involved in their characters... As with most of the previous releases in this series, the Brewer Chamber Orchestra provides an efficient yet underpowered accompaniment."

Ezio. D'Anna Fortunato, etc; Manhattan Chamber Orchestra/Richard Auldon Clark [Vox] 56.

No reviews found.

Faramondo. Julianne Baird, etc; Brewer Chamber Orchestra/Rudolph Palmer [Vox] 56.

"The singing itself is more creditable than the casting is credible", according to Gramophone; "Palmer conducts judiciously, avoiding extremes of tempo yet not running into dullness. The period instruments are played agreeably... A better version may come along one day, but the fine score deserves a hearing now". gave it 6, saying "As is often the case in recordings of Handel operas produced by John Ostendorf, there are several unfortunate cuts - quite important in the recitatives in this work - but the singers are totally involved in their parts and definitely try to express something with both music and text, even if not always vocally at ease". MusicWeb reviewed it when it became part of a Brilliant Classics set of Handel, saying "This is by no means a perfect recording. But the Brewer Chamber Orchestra play stylishly and Rudolph Palmer’s tempi are crisp and well chosen. Despite their technical limitations, the cast believe in the opera and use Handel’s wonderful vocal lines to create character".

Flavio. Jeffrey Gall, etc; Ensemble 415/René Jacobs [Harmonia Mundi] 27.

"Flavio is possibly the most delectable of all Handel's operas", said Gramophone ; this recording is one of "the finest ever made of Handel operas and I am happy to be able to recommend it almost unreservedly". Classics Today gave it 9/9 and said "this performance is dynamite". Penguin Guide gave it *** - "vividly captures the consistent vigour of Handel's inspiration".

Giulio Cesare. David Sabella, etc; Virginia Opera/Peter Mark [Koch] 55. (disc 2 is here)

BBC Music gave it a rare 1 out of 5 performance, and 3 for sound: "My chief complaint against this recording is that it cuts nearly 90 minutes from one of Handel’s greatest operas... To make matters worse, the performances are extremely lacklustre... this travesty would be better forgotten". In a Gramophone Collection article on the opera, the reviewer said "This is full of spectacularly awful things, from its mechanical overture to routinely insipid arias. Some of the singing, including that of three countertenors, is not entirely bad, but the orchestra's grasp on rhythm is so sluggish that I felt somebody needed to jump out and push it up the hill".

Giulio Cesare. Martine Dupuy, etc; Orchestra Pro Arte Bassano/Marcello Panni [Nuova Era] 53.

In a Gramophone Collection article on this opera, the reviewer said "Panni's conducting is sensible and sympathetic and he is a more natural Handelian than some recent so-called specialists, but this is an unreliable performance full of technical weaknesses".

Giulio Cesare - highlights. Jennifer Larmore, etc; Concerto Koln/René Jacobs [Harmonia Mundi] 15.

The full recording won a Gramophone Award; the original review said "The great strength of this recording is that it treats the work as a live piece of musical drama, in which everyone is involved at an intense level from beginning to end. Rene Jacobs... seems totally in command and with a clear view of the piece and how it functions. I don't always agree with the view, but it is a powerful and persuasive one... The cast has no weaknesses and many strengths". MusicWeb said "This is a first choice for Giulio Cesare and high praise is deserved by the soloists, orchestra, by Jacobs himself and by Harmonia Mundi", while Classics Today said "Jacobs' cast and interpretive outlook turn the opera into the drama it should be, and no one who cares about Baroque opera should do without this set" (giving it 9/9). The full opera got *** and a key symbol from Penguin Guide.

Julius Caesar (ie, Giulio Cesare sung in English). Janet Baker, etc; English National Opera/Charles Mackerras [Chandos] 58.

A 26-track highlights album is also available. "As a total production, Julius Caesar was an outstanding achievement in the company’s history", said Gramophone, calling it "a gramophone classic". The highlights disc was strongly recommended by MusicWeb: "Those who insist on hearing Handel’s operas sung in Italian and played on period instruments may pass by this CD. That would be a great pity for it gives a very good representation of a supreme Handelian in a major role. If you value distinguished, stylish and dramatic singing and conducting of Handel then you should add this disc to your collection without delay". Also reviewing the highlights, Fanfare said "The singing and conducting, indeed, by Dame Janet and her ENO colleagues and by that expert Handelian, Sir Charles Mackerras, are for the most part as masterful as you would expect, and the recorded sound is excellent. But in the end, Julius Caesar is a mere shadow of Giulio Cesare". Penguin Guide gave the complete set *** - "one of the very finest of the invaluable series of ENO opera recordings in English".

Giulio Cesare - sung in German. Walter Berry, etc; Munic Philharmonic Orchestra/Ferdinand Leitner [Opera d'Oro] 60.

A performance from 1965, taken from a radio broadcast. Reviewing its issue on the Orfeo d'Or label, Gramophone said "There is much to enjoy" and recommended René Jacobs' recording "if the opera itself, rather than its singers, is the prime object of interest".

Giustino. Michael Chance, etc; Freiburger Barockorchester/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 74.

"The work happens to be particularly well suited to Nicholas McGegan's interpretative approach... The singing... is stylish and assured though vocally not consistently distinguished" - Gramophone. "McGegan coaxes a stylish performance from the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra", and Michael Chance is "outstanding" - BBC Music (4-4). Penguin Guide gave it *** - "this is a set to delight all Handelians".

Imeneo. John Ostendorf, etc; Brewer Chamber Orchestra/Rudolph Palmer [Vox] 12.

"Whilst there is nothing exceptional in this interpretation, it is never boring and there are some nice moments from almost all the soloists", said; "This recording could be a nice way to discover this opera, even if it is entirely unsatisfying from a musicological point of view... We are used to extensive cuts in Ostendorf’s productions but in this one there is something yet more extraordinary: Ostendorf himself sings Imeneo, and his concept of the title role includes three arias (one of them from the 1742 Dublin version) who should be sung by other characters with different registers" (it scored 5 out of 10). Gramophone said it "takes us back to the bad old days when musicians felt they didn't need to respect a composer's text... And the orchestral playing often sounds under-rehearsed—though Rudolph Palmer anyway seems unable to bring much natural flow to the rhythms. In spite of all that, there is quite a lot to enjoy, especially in the really lovely singing of Julianne Baird". MusicWeb, reviewing it when it was reissued as part of a Brilliant Classics set, was more conciliatory: "if you simply leave your musicological hat to one side, then this recording is very enjoyable".

Ottone. Drew Minter, etc; Freiburger Barockorchester/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 71.

Scored 5-5 from BBC Music; comparing it with Robert King's recording on Hyperion, the reviewer said "Both sets are recommendable, but Minter’s charismatic performance, Saffer’s deeper perceptions and the inclusion of arias Handel wrote for later revivals tip the balance in favour of McGegan". Gramophone was less impressed: "Minter sings diligently and musically, but I do find his countertenor wanting in clarity and incisiveness... McGegan's direction, with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra is less mannered here than in some of his recent Handel recordings... the set adequately fills a significant gap in the Handel opera repertory". (In a subsequent review of the King recording, the same reviewer - Stanley Sadie - said "the cast here is marginally preferable to McGegan's... Neither conductor seems to me fully idiomatic; McGegan is the more dramatic but his set is the more flawed by sins of commission than King's is by those of omission").

Partenope. Rosemary Joshua, etc; Early Opera Company/Christian Curnyn [Chandos] 87.

This was "not a highly regarded work in its day" but it is "one of its composer’s more interesting dramatic creations", notes Gramophone, which says "Curnyn conducts a highly competent performance thoroughly in the groove of modern Handelian style, with a cast that has no vocal weaknesses and many dramatic virtues". Fanfare was less impressed, though: "There is a general feeling of caution, the impression that the performance is feeling its way... Curnyn’s Partenope is by no means poor. It provides a more than acceptable account of one of Handel’s most unjustly neglected and appealing operas, and as such is worthy of investigation by Handelians". BBC Music gave it 4-5: "Curnyn is not always the most theatrical of conductors; and on occasion – say, in the trio and quartet – the music can jog where it should fizz. But the orchestral playing is neat and graceful, and the cast without any weak links". It got a 7 from " would tend to say there is nothing exceptional in this new recording under Christian Curnyn, but pleasure and interest are there and both the execution and the interpretation are of a consistent high standard". Penguin Guide gave it *** - "Central to the success of Christian Curnyn's well-paced performance is the glorious singing of Rosemary Joshua in the title-role".

Radamisto. Ralf Popken, etc; Freiburger Barockorchester/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 71.

Praise from Gramophone: "as compelling as any Handel opera performance I have heard... an excellent cast... The playing of the Freiburg orchestra is first-rate, though one might have wished for a rather larger body of strings". BBC Music gave it 4-5: "Generally speaking, McGegan has derived better results in those sets using the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra (as here) than in those made with his Californian forces... With two exceptions [Popken and Gondek], the cast is acceptable rather than outstanding".

Rinaldo. Kimberley Barber, etc; Opera In Concert; Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon [Naxos] 48.

This gets 8/8 from Classics Today, which says "If it weren't for the two other complete ... and quite superb recordings of this juicy, thrilling opera... this new, inexpensive set, as performed by the Canadian group Opera in Concert, would be greeted wildly. As it is, it has plenty to recommend it despite the star power of its competition". Gramophone says "there is little of the dynamic precociousness that abounds in Handel’s music. The Aradia Ensemble are active and astute enough but just sound a bit too far away. There is often a reverberant wash over the sound, so that over the course of three acts the churchy acoustic imposes itself as the opera’s dominant personality". Fanfare is not impressed: "I’ve had plenty of good things to say about the Kevin Mallon discs that have to date come my way, but despite the obvious integrity of the performance, there’s little here to praise, I’m afraid". Neither is MusicWeb: "Handel enthusiasts might want to have it, for completeness sake if you don’t have the opera already. But if you are unfamiliar with Handel’s opera seria, then I would not advise buying it; save up and get a better recording". Penguin Guide gave it **(*) - "totally refreshing".

Rinaldo. Marilyn Horne, etc; Teatro la Fenice, Venice/John Fisher [Nuova Era] 50.

A live recording from 1989. "neither in style nor in technical accomplishment does it reach an acceptable level", according to Gramophone. "I won't say this is the worst Handel opera set I have ever heard, but it must be one of the weakest for a long time".

Rodelinda. Joan Sutherland, etc; Philomusica Orchestra/Charles Farncombe [Opera d'Oro] 31.

Rodelinda. Joan Sutherland, etc; Philomusica Orchestra/Charles Farncombe [Living Stage] 31.

These are both of the same live recording from 1959. Classics Today reviewed the Living Stage issue and gave it 7/6: "an interesting pre-authentic performance... the spirit of Handel is present--and besides that, fans of either Sutherland or Janet Baker, both caught here so early in their careers that they were not even vaguely famous, will have to hear them".

Rodelinde (1930s German version!) plus suite from Alcina and other things. Chor und Orchester des Reichssenders Stuttgart/Carl Leonhardt [Haenssler] 31.

As MusicWeb puts it, "This is not a complete recording in any sense, nor is it even slightly authentic... it represents a historical document of how Handel’s music was performed some seventy years ago". Fanfare says "In the face of such wanton distortion of content and style, it becomes easy to understand why, 60 years ago, Handel opera was widely regarded as a more or less trivial art form". Both this reviewer and Gramophone's draw attention to the lyric baritone Gerhard Husch. In a 3/5 review, Classics Today says "It's well sung for what it is; Handel would wonder who wrote it".'s reviewer said "For today’s listeners, this recording sounds rather like an aberration. Yet it is a fascinating testimony to the revival of Handel’s music belonging to a tradition which lasted several dozens of years. It is impossible to grade these performances using our regular criteria, yet they will certainly be of value to those interested in historic recordings". Of the extra tracks, Gramophone says "These pages of musical history might better have been left unturned".

Serse. Luigi Alva, etc; Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Piero Bellugi [Opera d'Oro] 24.

A live performance from 1962. No reviews found.

Sosarme. Alfred Deller, etc; Saint Cecilia Orchestra/Anthony Lewis [Opera d'Oro] 36.

This 1955 recording was first released by L'Oiseau-Lyre. The Gramophone review at the time said "From a purely musical point of view, the handling of the work is safe and even tasteful in a rather negative way... However, gratitude to have this rare work on disc ought to outweigh other reactions. I had much pleasure from it". I love this: "Mr. Deller's performance is highly intelligent and musically satisfying, with a steady intonation... Nevertheless in the counter tenor voice it is difficult not to hear suggestions of the Tyrolese yodel and though Mr. Deller avoids yodelling even in florid passages which might tempt him, the thought remains teasingly present that he could if he would". The Gramophone review helpfully includes the price: 109 shillings and 4 1/2 pence, which works out at about £95/$138/€101 in today's money. So 36 tracks on emusic isn't so bad. When Andromeda reissued it in 2006, MusicWeb said "all in all this is one for the specialist – in Deller, and in historic operatic performances generally".

Tamerlano. Thomas Randle, etc; The English Concert/Trevor Pinnock [Avie] 69.

Not well received by everyone, but some good reviews. gave it 7, saying "generally a positive and predictably sensible yet rich musical experience... Like its predecessors, this is not the Tamerlano that Handel deserves. But it is an interesting and valuable contribution to the catalogue". It was generally praised by Gramophone, although not the reviewer's top choice (that's Gardiner). BBC Music gave it 3 for performance, 4 for sound: "There’s a serious problem with the singers, of whom only countertenor Graham Pushee (Andronico) sounds completely at ease" ( had praised tenor Thomas Randle (Bazajet)). Fanfare's Brian Robins also didn't like the singing, and said the opera is "still without a recording worthy of its stature", whereas in the same issue Bernard Jacobson was impressed by several of the singers and described it as "a praiseworthy undertaking". Classics Today said 8/8, saying the recording "presents this opera better than any competition on CD, and probably as well as we'll hear it any time soon". International Record Review said "musically this is the strongest recording of Tamerlano to date". And finally MusicWeb: "This is a fine recording of one of Handel’s finest operas. While the singers could be a bit more baroque in sensitivity, this is a great work, one that has not been recorded much, and which deserves to be discovered or rediscovered through this fine set". Penguin Guide gave it **(*), but *** for the DVD version - "The DVD performance is totally gripping throughout, whereas on CD the stage noises tend to be obtrusive".

Tamerlano. Gwendolyn Killebrew, etc; Chamber Orchestra of Copenhagen/John Moriarty [Parnassus] 56.

This 1970 recording scored 6 out of 10 from when it appeared on CD: "more than thirty years later, the orchestra sounds very industrious but quite old-fashioned, with particularly slow tempos – the overture sounds so torpid! The vocal performances are less dated, and, despite often being erratic, all singers contribute some good or excellent moments". Classics Today was more impressed, giving it 9/7 and remarking "This may just beat out Avie's for top place among recorded versions of this work". MusicWeb called it "a consistently well sung and splendidly astute set that still glitters with imagination and insight". Fanfare said "The sound is more vivid and colorful than ever, though period-instrument aficionados may find the Copenhagen orchestra’s playing too large-scale for their taste. I am as positively impressed as before by Moriarty’s musical and stylistic judgement"; the cast are described as excellent.

Tolomeo. Jennifer Lane, etc; Manhattan Chamber Orchestra/Richard Auldon Clark [Vox] 57.

No reviews found.

"Arias" - from Ariodante, Joseph & his Brethren, Rinaldo, Siroe, Il Parnasso in Festa, Muzio Scevola, Ottone, Joshua, and Semele. Julianne Baird (soprano); Brewer Chamber Orchestra/Rudolph Palmer [Newport Classic] 15.

No reviews found.

Arias from Giulio Cesare, Serse, Alcina, and Ariodante. Ann Murray (mezzo); Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Charles Mackerras [] 12.

Originally released on Forlane. Gramophone generally praised it (go to page 3 of this), while BBC Music gave it 3-4, saying "overall I can’t help feeling that Handel’s great music should sound more dynamic and engaging than it does on this disc".

Arias from Theodora and Serse; also the Italian cantata La Lucrezia. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (mezzo); Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Harry Bicket [Avie] 20.

"An exceptional disc", according to BBC Music (top marks); Classics Today gave it 9/9. It was a MusicWeb Recording of the Month for July 2004 ("one of the finest vocal recordings in any voice I’ve ever heard"), although another reviewer said it "shows off the singer's vocal consistency better than her powers of characterisation". Fanfare reviewers were less impressed: "for the first half of the disc, my impression on first hearing was of truly superb singing... Gradually, however, and increasingly with repeated listening, this pleasure began to be overshadowed by a sense of unrelieved heaviness, indeed portentousness, in the whole proceedings" (Bernard Jacobson, who admits to not being Hunt Lieberson's greatest fan); Brian Robins says "I think this is probably a disc to be heard by all lovers of vocal art. You will either adore it, or, like me, find a fair amount of what you hear open to quite severe criticism". Finally, gave it a 9: "There might be some who find this level of intensity somehow un-Handelian, and if they prefer a more emotionally contained approach, there are plenty of alternative recordings for this repertoire... Compared to Hunt Lieberson’s all out emotional commitment, combined with her musical sensitivity, however, they all sound rather pallid."

"Arias and dances" - mostly orchestral excerpts from Alcina and Agrippina. Karina Gauvin (soprano); Tafelmusik/Jeanne Lamon [Analekta] 22.

No reviews found, although the album was nominated for Best Classical Album (Large Ensemble) in Canada's Juno Awards of 2000. (FWIW, here's a Wikipedia link)

"Arias for Cuzzoni". Lisa Saffer (soprano); Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 12.

"Saffer is a confident, whole-hearted singer, at her best in the exuberant arias where her bright, hard timbre and fearless gusto can be quite thrilling. In the more expressive numbers, on the other hand, it can seem rather colourless... these are in the main enthusiastic and invigorating performances of great music that no Handelian can afford to miss" - Gramophone.

"Arias for Durastanti". Lorraine Hunt (mezzo); Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 13.

"The predominance of male and heroic roles in [Durastanti's] repertory... does rather suggest a sturdy and focused voice of some power, as indeed does the style of much of her music. Lorraine Hunt's singing, often beautiful and refined, seems to me at almost the opposite pole: her strengths lie in her singing of expressive and gentle music, in the delicacy of her phrasing" - Gramophone.

"Arias for Senesino". Drew Minter (countertenor); Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 11.

Gramophone says "In the slow, expressive music he is quite convincing... What I find lacking in Minter's voice is a really firm focus. The tone is sweet and smooth, but a little soft-centred".

"As steals the morn". Mark Padmore (tenor); The English Concert/Andrew Manze [Harmonia Mundi] 18.

See below, under Odes, Oratorios, etc.

"Endless pleasure" - arias from Atalanta, Guilio Cesare, Semele; Terpsichore from Il Pastor fido; plus music by Purcell. Barbara Hendricks (soprano); Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble [Arte Verum] 23.

Gramophone was brutal: "some may find [the title] ironic... I cannot envisage an opportunity to play this disc again, except perhaps next Halloween". BBC Music was friendlier, giving it 3-2 and saying "her voice, though mature, remains rich and lovely... Some of the pieces would have suited Hendricks better when younger". But American Record Guide said "listening to this has been one of the few irritating review experiences I have had in recent years. There are so many fine programs of Purcell songs and Handel arias these days that this release is just not to be taken seriously".

"Heroes and Heroines" - music from Alcina, Solomon, Ariodante, and Hercules. Sarah Connolly (mezzo); The Symphony of Harmony and Invention/Harry Christophers [Coro] 13.

"top-of-the-range Handel singing", according to BBC Music, which gave it full marks. Fanfare concurred: "This is a treasurable release, not to be missed by any lover of great singing". Gramophone said "Connolly is an exemplary Handel singer", while said "it is for Connolly’s passion and commitment to the music that I have no hesitation in thoroughly recommending this disc. It is the most successful recital I have heard for many a year", giving it 9 out of 10. It also got 10/10 from both Classics Today and Classics Today France.

"Love duets" - music from Rinaldo, Giulio Cesare, Tolomeo, Rodelinda, and Serse, plus the overture HWV337. Suzie LeBlanc (soprano); Daniel Taylor (countertenor); Arion/Stephen Stubbs [Atma] 14.

Scored 9 from ("those who are already admirers of Taylor and LeBlanc will need little convincing of this disc’s many treasures"), and 7/8 from Classics Today ("a slim, unexciting, but generally appealing experience"). Fanfare praises the singers and calls the disc "delightful".

"Ombra mai fu" - arias and instrumental music from Giulio Cesare, Admeto, Radamisto, Rodelinda, Serse, and Alcina; Concerto grosso from Alexander's Feast. Andreas Scholl (countertenor); Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin [Harmonia Mundi] 24.

This got a positive review from Gramophone, which said "the sheer opulence of tone impresses afresh". BBC Music gave it full marks, saying this is "Scholl at his inimitable best: superbly accomplished and fully inside each character in turn". Fanfare described it as "a program planned with rare intelligence" with "magnificent orchestral playing throughout"; this is "a recital that not only triumphantly shows why Scholl's glorious voice has justifiably made him the first countertenor superstar, but equally reveals him to be undeniably the possessor of formidable dramatic gifts". It got a Rosette from the Penguin Guide - "indispensable".

"Opera arias and cantatas" - arias from Giulio Cesare, Rinaldo, and Alcina; Tra le fiamme; No se emendara jamas. Maria Bayo (soprano); Capriccio Stravagante/Skip Sempe [Naive] 13.

MusicWeb gave it a thumbs-up, saying "This is a lovely recital and displays Bayo’s talents in this tricky repertoire". On its original release, Gramophone said "Bayo is a delightfully spirited singer, responsive to words and music, and with a bright gleam to her voice"; for the reissue, the reviewer said "Bayo's singing... is for the most part delightful" but complained about the "giant aircraft hangar" acoustic. Classics Today gave it 9/9, saying "this is really magnificent singing accompanied by interpretive instincts that invariably show the true theatrical essence of these wonderful Handel creations". In a brief overview of Naive reissues, BBC Music called this "a winner".

"Opera seria" - arias from 11 operas. Sandrine Piau (soprano); Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset [Naive] 12.

"Rousset and Piau achieve the perfect synthesis of elegance, extravagance and emotion. I yearned for them to continue with the rest of the opera after each cruelly brief extract. This is without doubt the finest recital of Handel arias I have ever heard" - Gramophone. "This arguably is the best Handel aria recording ever made by a soprano" - Classics Today (10/10). "one might almost want to call this new recording by French soprano Sandrine Piau a mandatory acquisition... There must be something wrong with this recording but I haven’t been able to figure out what it is" - (10). (translating) "This recital should be in everyone's collection" - Classics Today France (10/10). But the BBC Music reviewer didn't join in, giving it 3 out of 5 for performance and 4 for sound. Penguin Guide gave it ***.

"Portraits of mezzo-soprano heroines" - excerpts from Teseo, Hercules, and Radamisto. Maria Riccarda Wesseling (mezzo); Lautten Compagney Berlin/Wolfgang Katschner [Claves] 20.

"My checklist of comments regarding her singing is almost all favourable. This is a clear, clean and well-supported voice", said MusicWeb; "The band shows its mettle in its solo outings". gave it 8: "If there is a criticism, it is that the program is rather limited in its emotional range... in short, no really bright bravura arias".

Theatre music

The Alchemist; Apollo e Dafne. European Union Baroque Orchestra/Roy Goodman [Naxos] 29.

See below, under Secular cantatas, for the Apollo e Dafne reviews.

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