Handel: Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno
PERFORMER: Roberta Invernizzi (soprano), Kate Aldrich (mezzo-soprano), Martin Oro (countertenor), Jörg Dürmüller (tenor); Academia Montis Regalis/Alessandro De Marchi
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67681-2

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An inveterate recycler of good ideas, Handel frequently drew from this early allegorical oratorio and re-composed it twice for London, in 1737 and 1757. It is indeed a wonderfully inventive and exuberant work from a 22-year-old composer experiencing Oscar-like success in Italy. Ruth Smith’s perceptive notes bring to life the cut and thrust of ambitious musicians in Rome in 1707: Arcangelo Corelli led Handel’s orchestra and, having criticised a French Ouverture, was challenged with exceptionally high solos in its Italianate replacement – but then mollified by a lovely obbligato in Beauty’s final prayer to her guardian ‘angel’. Handel himself, performing an organ concerto, is interrupted by Beauty’s imperious ‘Taci!’ – (Silence!) – and flattered by reference to ‘his feats beyond mortal skill’. But even within the conventional succession of arias, there isn’t a weak number. Enlightenment’s ‘sleep’ aria, cradled by two recorders, the harmonic side-steps of Time’s fearsome evocation of ‘ghastly skeletons’, Pleasure’s threats of anguish if she is rejected – all exceptional, but the rest, too, are sheer delight. Invernizzi’s alluring voice is fluent in challenging virtuosity but sweetly penitent as she rejects Aldrich’s somewhat assertive ‘Pleasure’. Oro’s ‘Enlightenment’ is powerful, focused and subtle, Dürmüller’s ‘Time’ clean if under-characterised. A high point is a quartet combining highly differentiated characters with almost Mozartean skill. Ornamentation and improvisation is highly stylish throughout, and orchestral support polished despite some scrambling tempos. Altogether thoroughly enjoyable. However Haïm’s account, winner of this year’s ‘Opera and Oratorio’ category in the BBC Music Magazine Awards, remains my benchmark with its superbly balanced sound and entrancing subtleties of phrase and articulation. George Pratt