Handel: Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Opus 111
WORKS: Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno
PERFORMER: Deborah York, Gemma Bertagnolli (soprano), Sara Mingardo (alto), Nicholas Sears (tenor); Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini
CATALOGUE NO: OPS 30-321-22
Il trionfo was Handel’s first oratorio. Composing the music in Rome in 1707, the young Saxon visitor took the chance to dazzle his Italian hosts. Despite a stodgy libretto (a debate between the allegorical figures Beauty, Pleasure, Time and Disillusion), Handel’s score fizzes with exuberance, imagination and a flamboyant embrace of Italian taste. All four singers have opportunities to display their bravura virtuosity, as do several of the instrumentalists – no small bonus when the first performance featured Corelli on violin and Handel himself on organ. But the real stars are the numerous exquisite arias, such as ‘Io sperai’, ‘Lascia la spina’ (which later became ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ in Rinaldo) and the breathtaking ‘Tu del ciel ministro eletto’.

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Marc Minkowski’s 1988 Erato set was Il trionfo’s premiere recording and this new Rinaldo Alessandrini account is only the second. Minkowski’s singers – Isabelle Poulenard, Jennifer Smith, Nathalie Stutzmann, John Elwes – have the edge, but mostly it’s a question of whether you prefer Alessandrini’s polish and finesse or Minkowski’s verve and flair. Two exceptions: Alessandrini bizarrely spoils ‘Lascia la spina’ with an over-fast, jerky tempo; and only the Minkowski/Poulenard version of ‘Tu del ciel ministro eletto’ is sufficiently beautiful, extraordinary and mysterious to make time stand still. Graham Lock