Handel: Arcadian Duets

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LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Arcadian Duets
PERFORMER: Natalie Dessay, Véronique Gens, Patricia Petibon, Juanita Lascarro, Laura Claycomb (soprano), Sara Mingardo, Marijana Mijanovic, Anna Maria Panzarella (mezzo-soprano), Brian Asawa (countertenor), Paul Agnew (tenor); Le Concert d’Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm (ha
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45524 2
The chamber duets that Handel wrote at various periods of his life are still among his best-kept secrets. Never one to under-exploit his musical ideas, he quarried from many of them for larger works, most famously Messiah, where the reuse of music originally associated with erotic love would not have bothered 18th-century audiences one iota. Two of the duets here, Quel fior and No, di voi non vo’ fidarmi, between them spawned four choruses in Messiah; and it is not hard to see why Handel was drawn back to music of such verve and fire. Other highlights in these celebrations of love’s pangs and joys include the elegiac Ahi, nelle sorte umane, the rapturously entwined lines of Conservate and Tanti strali, with its coquettish outer movements and ecstatic central section. For all their domestic origins, these duets demand virtuoso singing. Which is exactly what they get in these performances. The cosmopolitan cast, most of them Baroque specialists, all have pure-toned, agile voices and show proper care for blend and balance. Beyond that, they relish the expressive potential of the amorous texts and Handel’s piercing dissonances, abetted by the varied colours and light, springing rhythms of the continuo group. If I were to single out just one pairing, it would have to be Natalie Dessay and Véronique Gens for their sensuous and impassioned performance of Ahi, nelle sorte umane. Handel-singing surely doesn’t come much better than that.