Handel – Eternal Heaven
Lea Desandre (mezzo-soprano), Iestyn Davies (countertenor); Ensemble Jupiter/Thomas Dunford (lute) (Erato)
Eternal Heaven: Arias from Semele, Theodora, Saul, Susanna, Esther etc
Lea Desandre (mezzo-soprano), Iestyn Davies (countertenor); Ensemble Jupiter/Thomas Dunford (lute)
Erato 5419719677 86:25 mins
Gorgeous, free-wheeling and technically flawless, this Handel album goes down like candy – but the familiarity of its programme may leave you hungry for more substantial fare.
The performers’ delicate musicianship and sonic quality are ravishing. Mezzo-soprano Lea Desandre’s pure, warm core and skilled application of vocal colours make her lyricism seductive, while her warp-speed passagi are simply astonishing. Countertenor Iestyn Davies delivers the intimate, precise, effortless vocalism for which he’s renowned, and when he and Desandre duet, their euphony is sublime. Lutenist Thomas Dunford’s chamber group Jupiter wraps each number in a gossamer-light realisation – continuo is often just plucked strings – and, in obbligato passages, entangles the vocal and instrumental lines in subtle ways.
This is the third recording by Jupiter since its founding in 2018. All feature Desandre, and all have a central concept anchoring a programme which has been toured, and which ends with a sentimental song composed by Dunford. The concept for Eternal Heaven is the spiritual uplift of Handel’s music, but musical selections seem driven by marketing as well as sublimity. We hear well-worn bravura arias from Semele, other Handel favourites like his Sarabande, HWV 457, widely used on TV, and arias that Davies has already recorded. Dunford’s concluding lute-pop song, ‘That’s so You’, is more a subtraction than an addition. In a concert, familiar music can stir audiences, while a folksy, feel-good finale can reel them in – but personally, I look to a recording to push the boundaries of repertoire and creative practice. That doesn’t happen here.