Handel: Rodelinda

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Archiv
ALBUM TITLE: Handel – Rodelinda
WORKS: Rodelinda
PERFORMER: Simone Kermes, Marijana Mijanovic´, Steve Davislim, Marie-Nicole Lemieux; Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis
CATALOGUE NO: 477 5391
Praised by the music historian Charles Burney for its ‘capital and pleasing airs’, Rodelinda is one of the supreme operas of Handel’s Royal Academy heyday. The plot, centring on the unwavering devotion of Queen Rodelinda and her exiled husband Bertarido, is clear and credible; and, as Burney noted, it inspired Handel to a succession of glorious arias, above all for the heroine – perhaps the composer’s most searchingly drawn soprano role – for Bertarido and for the spiteful, tormented, ultimately remorseful usurper Grimoaldo.

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Where Nicholas Kraemer’s 1998 Virgin recording gave us the original version of February 1725, Alan Curtis in his new recording adds a duet and a substitute aria Handel composed for a revival, and includes the rejected aria on a bonus track. Kraemer’s recording is polished and enjoyable. But this new set has the edge, for its greater dramatic urgency (tempos are often a notch quicker, the shaping of orchestral lines bolder and sharper), and the richer characterisation of its two leading roles.

Sophie Daneman, for Kraemer, sings with exquisite purity. But Simone Kermes, with a rather fuller voice and more intense phrasing, brings more passion and tragic grandeur to Rodelinda’s music. Similarly, Daniel Taylor, on the Virgin set, sings smoothly and tastefully as Bertarido, whereas the strong, androgynous tones of Marijana Mijanovic make him a far more virile and positive figure. Steve Davislim, with his sappy, rounded tenor, is less venomous than Kraemer’s Adrian Thompson as Grimoaldo, but makes much of his final scene of anguish and resignation; and the other singers, including the fiery Sonia Prina as Bertarido’s sister Eduige, are at least a match for their Virgin rivals.

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Those who already have the Kraemer recording need not rush to replace it. But for anyone without a Rodelinda, one of half-a-dozen must-have Handel operas, this new set is the one to go for. Richard Wigmore