Handel: Arias: Ariodante; Giulio Cesare; Arianna in Creta

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Sony
ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Arias: Ariodante; Giulio Cesare; Arianna in Creta
PERFORMER: Angelika Kirchschlager (soprano); Kammerorchester Basel/Laurence Cummings
CATALOGUE NO: 82876 88952 2
Handel had a remarkable sense of theatre. So, tearing 12 arias from their dramatic context and omitting scenery, costume, gesture or movement, places exceptional demands on the music and its performers – demands met splendidly on this disc.

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Kirchschlager is admirably versatile, as alluring in the smiling contemplation of a garden as in dark near-suicidal despair or spectacular bravura display. She produces a clear, pure legato line in Teseo’s ‘Sdegnata sei’ (Arianna), plunges from a rich contralto tone at the start of Ariodante’s ‘Dopo Notte’ to high soprano coloratura. Her three arias from Giulio Cesare are particularly impressive – Sesto’s ferocious determination to avenge his father, his soliloquy ‘Cara speme’ (Laurence Cummings devising restrained but imaginative continuo), and his triumphing ‘Svegliatevi nel core’ as his plot is laid for revenge. Kirchschlager’s ornamentation intensifies da capo repeats without doing violence to Handel’s lines, reflecting Hans-Georg Hofmann’s inspired point in his notes explaining the crucial dramatic structure of da capo – if the middle section finds noble characters losing control, the return shows ‘they have collected themselves, with bravura’.

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Orchestral playing here is near perfect, with balanced dialogue between obbligato parts. Excellently recorded, this rendition is a life-enhancing experience. George Pratt