Handel: Italian Cantatas
Aminta e Fillide; Armida abbandonata; Trio Sonata in B minor; La Lucrezia
Sabine Devieilhe (soprano), Léa Desandre (mezzo-soprano); Le Concert d’Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm
Erato 9029563362 96:10 mins (2 discs)
This production is a delight throughout. For Handel’s greatest Italian cantatas, Emmanuelle Haïm brings together two stars: soprano Sabine Devieilhe, known above all for her leadership of opera in France, and the prize-winning young mezzo Léa Desandre. Haïm retains control by preparing both the scores and the sopranos’ ornaments, her vision giving this carefully wrought performance a fiery intensity, as if recorded live in concert.
Vocally the casting is perfect. In Armida abbandonata, Devieilhe broods over Rinaldo’s escape from her sensual clutches, darkening her sunny vocal colours and channelling her anger into eye-popping top notes; Haïm pushes her pauses to the limit when soprano and band delay re-entering after silences. Desandre, a superb actress, delivers bold musical rhetoric. Her solo cantata, La Lucrezia, is a monologue by the eponymous classical noblewoman who, having been raped, vainly cries for justice and then kills herself. Whether limning her chest register with bitterness or angrily spitting out recitative, Desandre makes Lucrezia’s words burst with meaning, while the instrumentalists catch her inner turmoil in solos and continuo realisations. All the musicians weaponise downbeats in this cantata, bringing to them a violence redolent of what Lucrezia has suffered. Conversely, sweeter lyricism can’t be found than in Aminta e Fillide, an Arcadian shepherd-finally-gets-shepherdess story that unites the two singers. As the shepherd Aminta, Devieilhe’s intensity makes his ardour inescapable, even as Fillide (Desandre) careens capriciously around her melodic line. You might think you know these cantatas, but this is a performance to make you think again.