WORKS: Operatic arias
PERFORMER: Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano)Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Charles Mackerras
CATALOGUE NO: UCD 16738 DDD
‘What the English like is something they can beat time to.’ So Handel told Gluck in 1745, advising him that to write opera in England was a ‘mere waste of time’. Handel was right about the English – his oratorios are still more widely revered here – but his operas contain some of the most gloriously sensuous music ever composed for the human voice.
After her thrilling ENO performances as Xerxes and Ariodante, I had hoped Ann Murray’s new collection of arias would make an irrefutable case for Handelian opera. Instead, I find myself disappointed by its low level of dramatic savoir faire. Compared to other CD versions of these arias, on, say, Jacobs’s Giulio Cesare (Harmonia Mundi), Hickox’s Alcina (EMI) and Leppard’s Ariodante (Philips), the singing and the playing sound tight-laced, lacking at times in both vivacity and expressiveness.
There is plenty to enjoy, too, notably a stirring ‘Crude furie degli orridi abissi’ (from Xerxes). Yet overall I can’t help feeling that Handel’s great music should sound more dynamic and engaging than it does on this disc. Graham Lock