LABELS: Wigmore Hall Live
WORKS: Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno
PERFORMER: Lucy Crowe (soprano), Anna Stephany (mezzo-soprano), Hilary Summers (contralto), Andrew Staples (tenor); Early Opera Company/Christian Curnyn
CATALOGUE NO: WHLive 0042/2
The programme note here is admirably persuasive: about scale, adjusting to the size and acoustic of the Wigmore Hall; about tempos, defending moderation rather than spectacular extremes; about ornaments, developing Handel’s melodic lines rather than littering them with decorations. Four young singers, eight strings, oboes/recorders, bassoon and colourful, varied continuo do justice to Christian Curnyn’s intentions.
It’s a superb performance, reflecting the exuberance and inventiveness of Handel, aged 22 and enjoying a star reception in Rome. He never surpassed such spontaneity and fluency of melody, and such unconventional touches – two vocal quartets, a fragment of recitative interrupting an aria. He was waggish: Beauty shouts ‘Silence!’ to end, in mid-flow, a sonata for organ and orchestra, played by ‘a graceful youth’ performing ‘feats beyond mortal skill’ – Handel himself; the violin playing of Corelli, his leader, is challenged by stratospheric moments, and honoured in the glorious obbligato accompanying Bellezza’s final aria.
The recording matches the outstanding quality of the music. The opening arias have a touch of nervous vocal tremor – this is a live performance, a major event on a London stage. But once calmed, they’re enchanting – Lucy Crowe as Bellezza, a captivating Beauty, controlled in mezza de voce long-held notes, breathtaking in pyrotechnic displays of virtuosity as she dismisses the threatening ravages of Time. She’s ideally matched duetting with Anna Stephany as Piacere (Pleasure), and accompanied by some of the best Baroque oboe-playing I’ve heard. Hilary Summers as Enlightenment is a remarkable contralto. Overall, an outstanding achievement. George Pratt