Handel: Nine German Arias

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Handel,Purcell
LABELS: Wigmore Hall Live
WORKS: Handel: Nine German Arias, HWV 202-210; Purcell: Gentle Shepherds, you that know; What a sad fate is mine; An Evening Hymn: Now that the sun hath veiled his light; Buxtehude: Jubilate Domino, BuxWV64 etc
PERFORMER: Iestyn Davies (countertenor); Ensemble Guadagni
CATALOGUE NO: WHLive 0038

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Intimacy and freshness make this a breathtaking performance. Handel’s nine German arias are jewels. Composed at the height of his operatic career (1724-1727), they combine the grace of the Italian aria and the seriousness of the German cantata with Handel’s uniquely rich word-painting.

Iestyn Davies and the Ensemble Guadagni engage deeply with the musical dialogue so crucial to these arias. Expressive ideas unfurl naturally from the poetry, subtly shifting shape as they pass between voice and instruments. Davies’s celebrated timbre – translucent, warm, pure – and the Ensemble’s imaginative additions make these melodies expand and glow.

The programme neatly balances Handel arias with elegies by Blow and Purcell, whose sombreness is communicated through muted vocal and instrumental colours.The disc is another triumph for Wigmore Hall Live recordings. In 2004, Wigmore Hall invested in state-of-the-art equipment to create its own label – the only venue in the world to do so. The fruits of this investment are audible: the disc combines the intensity of live performance with studio-perfect engineering.

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Compared to the Hyperion recording of Handel’s arias, the vibrancy of this performance trumps Carolyn Sampson’s more cerebral reading. Although Davis and the Ensemble depart from Handel’s original scoring, the composer would surely have appreciated their performance’s seductive beauty. Berta Joncus