WORKS: Salve regina; O qualis de coelo sonus; Trio Sonata in G minor; Coelestis dum spirat aura; Laudate pueri
PERFORMER: Emma Kirkby (soprano); London Baroque/Charles Medlam
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1065
I’ve seldom been as moved by a recording, both music and performance. Three of the cantatas come from Handel’s early period in Italy, working with the best musicians Rome had to offer, greeted with cries of ‘il caro Sassone’ – beloved Saxon – and responding with a level of exuberance which he never surpassed. Already his theatrical imagination was vivid – a leaping ninth as the exiled children of Eve reach out to the Virgin Mary (Salve regina) – and his musical instinct faultless as irregular phrase-lengths ingeniously prove to add up after all (Coelestis dum spirat aura). The even earlier Laudate pueri is breathtakingly fluent (with pre-echoes of ‘Jubal’s lyre’), even if the Gloria’s repeated ‘et nunc’ borders on the absurd.
Emma Kirkby retains all her familiar ethereal quality – the opening note grows from nothing in a perfectly formed crescendo – but nowadays she uncovers a broader range of colour and thoughtful detail, gasping sighs in ‘this vale of tears’, unrestrained joy, understated meditation. Her vocal athleticism is staggering in some of the fastest figuration you’re ever likely to hear. Exemplary ornamentation always enhances the composer’s music rather than the singer’s ego.
With London Baroque in top form, and wonderful ‘presence’ in the recorded sound, this is truly outstanding.