ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Great Handel: various arias
PERFORMER: Ian Bostridge (tenor); Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Harry Bicket
CATALOGUE NO: 382 2432
With Harmonia Mundi’s recent release featuring Mark Padmore and The English Concert, and now this rival disc on EMI, readers in search of Handel’s greatest hits for tenor are spoilt for choice. For his selection, Ian Bostridge has chosen works he’s known and loved since he was a boy in short pants: arias from Handel’s Italian operas Ariodante, Rodelinda and Serse interwoven with English airs and duets from L’Allegro, Jephthe, Messiah, Samson and Semele. Hearing this succession of exquisite numbers one after the other certainly makes one wonder at Handel’s melodic fecundity but, no matter how attractive the programming, it is hard to avoid the feeling that the music has been eviscerated.
Bostridge is sharply attuned to the subtlety of Handel’s word setting, colouring his sound with a rich palette of timbres and effects: sonorous and sensuous in ‘Ombra mai fù’, hauntingly stark in ‘Total eclipse’. His expressive nuances, vibrato and vocal intensity make these Baroque arias sound more like Romantic Lieder and his interpretations are somewhat at odds with the clean, understated style of the orchestra. Nonetheless, Harry Bicket’s direction is sensitive and unfussy – tempos are well-judged, allowing him to shape Handel’s long-breathed melodic lines with supple grace. Kate Bolton