Handel: Duetti da Camera
Written over a period of some 40 years, Handel’s chamber duets were intended for domestic performance, perhaps by good amateur singers the composer was himself instructing in music – such as his royal pupils. They acquired a high reputation in Handel’s lifetime, maintaining it for decades afterwards, though these days they’re not especially well known; so this recorded selection of ten provides a good opportunity to get acquainted with them.
The two voices involved, though, are not ideally matched: Roberta Invernizzi’s light soprano is sometimes overshadowed by Marina de Liso’s heavier mezzo, while its bite and occasional glassiness are not always comfortable to listen to; De Liso herself, meanwhile, is apt to lose tonal quality in faster passages.
Generally, though, their perfect intonation, vocal vitality and solid musicianship carry them along, pleasantly savouring some of Handel’s delicate word-painting – such as the expressive suspensions representing the chains of love in ‘Sono liete, fortunate’, or the frenetic semiquavers illustrating the lover quivering after being struck by bolts of lightning in ‘A mirarvi io son intento’ – along the way. They are effectively accompanied by a three-piece continuo group – cello, archlute or theorbo and harpsichord – even if the playing can feel functional rather than especially characterful.
The acoustic supplies the intimacy suggested by the context of these pieces, even if it feels a shade enclosed.