Handel – Anachronistic Hearts
La Lucretia, HWV145; plus mezzo-soprano arias from Agrippina, Alcina, Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno etc
Héloïse Mas (soprano); London Handel Orchestra/Laurence Cummings
Muso MU 045 76:35 mins
For her debut solo recording, mezzo-soprano Héloïse Mas has chosen favourite Handel arias as the soundtrack for a video story of her own devising. In scenes on her YouTube channel, she plays a Victorian-era secret agent with an unconvincing English accent who fights werewolves in CGI and martial-arts sequences. Mas claims her project will broaden the audience for Handel’s music.
Without the silly visuals, Anachronistic Hearts is an engaging album. Mas is a daring singer: guided by the cool expertise of Laurence Cummings and the London Handel Orchestra, her execution is often riveting. Her buttery lower register and glorious top notes make Handel’s lyric melodies glow. In the programme’s centrepiece, La Lucrezia, she counters the players’ sobriety with sweeping climaxes that both draw us into Lucretia’s story and harness the delicate power of Handel’s music.
There are problems. Even in La Lucrezia, the drama tends to be Romantic rather than Baroque. Extemporisation and soft dynamics are rare, and tempos extreme. Mas produces her sound in the same way for each number, regardless of mood. She also brushes aside musical rhetoric: not for her are the pauses, sighs and lift or sag in verse that Handel translated into music. At times Mas stops listening to the band, for instance in ‘Ah! mio cor!’ from Alcina, whose tense walking bass she slows to a sticky plod. This album has its pleasures, but the focus is on Mas rather than on the kind of vocal artistry for which Handel wrote.