Handel: La Lucrezia; Armida abbandonata; Agrippina condotta a morire

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Virgin Veritas
WORKS: La Lucrezia; Armida abbandonata; Agrippina condotta a morire
PERFORMER: Véronique Gens (soprano), François Fernandez, Mira Glodeanu (violin); Les Basses Réunies
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45283 2
All three of these cantatas are secular works; all are sung from the viewpoint of tragic heroines; and all were composed in that fertile period when Handel was thirstily drinking in Italian influences in Rome, from 1707 to 1709. His output was prodigious. In this genre alone he turned out something like 80 works in a little over two years. Many of them aspired to the gentle, pure Arcadian ideal that by then had become fashionable among Rome’s intelligentsia – but not these works. Rather they are prototypes for the many powerful character studies that Handel was to cultivate in his Italian operas written for London a few years later. He deftly summons Lucrezia’s mixture of nobility, anger, desperation and sorrow as she embarks on her suicide; while the abandonment of Armida is cleverly symbolised by the temporary absence of continuo support at the beginning of the work, and the condemned Agrippina’s mental condition is deftly encapsulated in the six-minute scena that comes in the middle of this relatively extended work.

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Véronique Gens is an excellent, rich-voiced, dramatically aware protagonist. There is vigorous, sometimes sublimely mellow support from the solo violinists François Fernandez and Mira Glodeanu and the continuo group of cello, theorbo, harpsichord and double bass, aptly named Les Basses Réunies. Stephen Pettitt