ALBUM TITLE: Handel: Italian Cantatas
WORKS: Agrippina; Nell dolce dell’obblio; Tu fedel? Tu costante?; Dietro l’orme fuggaci
PERFORMER: Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano); Principals from The Symphony of Harmony and Invention
CATALOGUE NO: COR 16045
Handel was never more inventive and exuberant than during his four years in Italy from 1706. He was when in his early twenties, immensely successful, adored by audiences and in great demand from patrons. As well as a series of Vespers settings (including the early masterpiece, Dixit Dominus) he produced numerous cantatas, particularly for the weekly musical gatherings of the Marquis Francesco Maria Ruspoli. Agrippina is an astonishing piece, the empress, condemned to die, lurching from recitative through arioso to full-blown set-piece aria – a ‘grand’ scena’ worthy of Handel’s maturest operas; and in Dietro l’orme fuggaci (identified on the CD as Armida abbandonata) Armida’s fury and despair at being abandoned by Rinaldo is hardly less intense. Elin Manahan Thomas is excellent in the lyrical/poignant moments, but is, as yet, not impassioned enough for Handel’s powerful emotions. She can be charmingly coy, teasing, pleading, but anger, scorn, despair are less convincing. Her voice is hauntingly attractive, with an endearing simplicity, as in Armida’s final prayer for release from the pains of love, or ‘Nel dolce dell’ obblio’, the sleeping Fili dreaming of her lover (with flute obbligato rather than Handel’s specified recorder). But Agrippina’s tirade against her fate comes across as half-hearted, not helped by one-to-a-part instruments, without 16-foot bass and creating a very light texture.
The audience at the live recording is so admirably quiet that their polite applause is an unexpected distraction. George Pratt