Handel: Apollo e Dafne, HWV 122; Agrippina

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Glossa
WORKS: Apollo e Dafne, HWV 122; Agrippina Condotta a Morire, HWV 110; Cuopre Talvolta Il Cielo, HWV 98
PERFORMER: Roberta Invernizzi (soprano), Thomas E Bauer, Furio Zanasi (bass); La Risonanza/Fabio Bonizzoni
CATALOGUE NO: GCD 921527

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This breathtaking performance, the crowning jewel of Bonizzoni’s series of Handel’s Italian cantatas, may bring fans of the composer’s London output to feel that Italy was not just the birthplace of his creativity, but its main residence. 

Here are some of Handel’s grandest experiments: he pits running bass – brilliantly played here by bassoon – in counterpoint with violin obbligato to tense up Apollo’s precipitous chase of Dafne (‘Mie piante correte’); he combines aria freely with recitative arioso to show Agrippina’s dips into insanity (‘Come, O Dio!’); he entwines pizzicato strings with luscious oboe and vocal lines to deliver a shivering sensuality (Dafne, ‘Felicissima quest’alma’).

Instruments in these late cantatas act like a catalyst for the verses, releasing their explosive power.Apollo e Dafne has often been recorded, yet even highly sensitive readings, such as that by Simon Standage, cannot match the vibrancy of Bonizzoni.

The vocalists here are electrifying: Thomas Bauer breathes fire into Apollo’s sustained lines, turning them into exhalations of desire; Roberta Invernezzi matches voice to character, conveying Dafne’s innocence with honeyed timbres, and Agrippina’s bitterness with her sharp-edged line; Furio Zanasi subtly nuances Handel’s most extravagant fioratura in simile arias.

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Above all, it is the instrumentalists that make this a stellar disc; their eloquence equals and at times overflows that of the vocalists. The invention of Bonizzoni’s own continuo realisations is riveting. Spotlessly engineered, this recording sets a new benchmark for Handel’s Italian cantatas. Berta Joncus