Handel: Tanti strali; Beato in ver

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Cantus
WORKS: Tanti strali; Beato in ver
PERFORMER: Rossana Bertini (soprano); La Venexiana/Claudio Cavina (countertenor)
CATALOGUE NO: C 9620
Handel’s Italian duets were actually composed in Italy, Germany and England. They do though conform to the Italian duetti da camera style, first perfected by Agostino Steffani, in which there are no recitatives or solo arias and both voices sing the same text. If this lack of dialogue means the duets are low in dramatic content (the texts are mostly standard complaints about love’s cruel torments), then Handel’s melodic genius ensures a high level of musical interest. The profusion of charming tunes is the main attraction here. Handel himself so liked the duets that he repeatedly re-used their music in his later operas and oratorios.

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The Cantus disc includes all ten surviving duets for alto and soprano. Unfortunately, Cavina’s rather characterless alto and Bertini’s thin, sharp soprano offer little pleasure in the sound of their performances. They also favour brisk tempos that make the music seem cramped and hurried at times, its sensuous curvatures negated by injudicious haste – ‘Tanti strali’ and ‘Beato in ver’ are major casualties here. The 1990 Hyperion CD of these duets, though it inexplicably omits ‘Beato in ver’, is otherwise preferable on all counts, with James Bowman and Gillian Fisher an eloquent and sensitive vocal pairing. Graham Lock