Handel – Italian Cantatas Volume 6 – Olinto, pastore arcade (1708)

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LABELS: Glossa
WORKS: Italian Cantatas, Vol. 6: Olinto, Pastore Arcade, HWV 143; Duello Amoroso, HWV 82; Alpestre Monte, HWV 81
PERFORMER: Roberta Invernizzi (soprano), Yetzabel Arias Fernández (mezzo-soprano), Romina Basso (contralto); La Risonanza/Fabio Bonizzoni

How do you turn emblematic poetry into riveting drama? Get Handel to set the words to music. This was the inspiration of Cardinal Ruspoli, who was Handel’s main host during the composer’s Rome residency. With Handel under his roof, Ruspoli could mount a cantata that was spellbinding, even as he flattered Pope Clement XI with sycophantic allegory.
In his treatment of Olinto pastore and its two companion cantatas, Handel seems to revel in the challenge their often creaking verses posed to his genius for distilling poetry’s emotional essence into music. No wonder he re-used so many of these arias in his operas.
To astonish his peers, Ruspoli would have needed fabulous performers, and this disc offers us the first modern equivalent of the glittering talent he hired – Denys Darlow’s earlier recording of this music (on Helios) sounds stuffy by comparison. Passionate as well as poetic, Fabio Bonizzoni’s interpretation draws us irresistibly into Handel’s affective states. 
The vocalists and the band are of the same high standard. Among the former, Roberta Invernizzi commands a dazzling upper range and tosses off demanding coloratura passages with careless ease, Romina Basso’s rich range of colours reminds us why Baroque audiences preferred the castrato alto over the tenor voice, and the warmth of mezzo-soprano’s Yetzabel Arias Fernández’s delivery brings depth to her lyric passages.
Solo instrumentalists stand out as much as do solo vocalists, and their ensemble is flawless. The slightly dry acoustic and superb engineering allows players to dominate in turn, in keeping with Handel’s conception. This is music as it should be for the chamber, where subtlety can be the most powerful expressive means. Berta Joncus