Gillian Keith and Florilegium perform Handel’s Trio Sonatas

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Channel Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Trio Sonatas – in E minor, Op. 5 No. 3, HWV398; in B minor, Op. 2 No. 1, HWV 386b; Neun deutsche Arien, HWV 202-210; Concerto a Quattro in D minor
PERFORMER: Gillian Keith (soprano); Florilegium
CATALOGUE NO: CCS 35117

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Since they were first recorded in 1952, Handel’s 9 German Arias have been issued on vinyl and CD at least twenty times. Yet perhaps they are still not as familiar to audiences as they deserve. Barthold Heinrich Brockes who wrote the texts was a Hamburg contemporary of Bach and Handel both of whom directly or indirectly made use of his poetry. The Neun Deutsche Arien was Handel’s last work with a German text and dates from the mid- to late-1720s. The poems are drawn from lyrical sections of Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott (Earthly Joy in God), an extended blank verse contemplation of nature. The moral or edifying intention of the poems is clear enough, but it is to the many delightful images of nature that Handel responds with beguiling and irresistible charm.

Each aria is scored for soprano voice with an unspecified solo instrument and continuo. While a violin seems Handel’s likeliest intention, both flute and oboe can provide sympathetic partnership with the voice. Ashley Solomon and his Florilegium ensemble ring the changes between flute and violin, interspersing groups of arias with chamber instrumental pieces by, and perhaps by, Handel played with their customary refinement and expressive intimacy. Gillian Keith’s performance of the Arias provides delight on many levels. Her responses to text and music are tender, innocent, fragile and vivacious in turn. Too often I longed for less vibrato but her attention to detail, the elegance of her ornaments and the lightness of her articulation are rewarding. Seasoned Handelians may find themselves on occasion recalling music from the operas Rodelinda and Tamerlano.

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Nicholas Anderson