Arne: Artaxerxes

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COMPOSERS: Arne
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Artaxerxes
PERFORMER: Christopher Robson, Ian Partridge, Patricia Spence, Richard Edgar-Wilson, Catherine Bott; Parley of Instruments/Roy Goodman
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67051/2 DDD

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Artaxerxes, premiered in London in 1762, was the first full-length opera seria sung in English. It proved a great success and helped to revive the fortunes of Thomas Arne, whose career had been in the doldrums. The opera featured his new protégée and mistress Charlotte Brent in the role of Mandane and Arne lavished attention on her music. Mandane’s arias and those of the hero Arbaces provide many of the opera’s high points, with their rich orchestrations, virtuoso vocal parts and captivating tunes. Though based on the Handelian model, Artaxerxes shows both Arne’s talent at the later galant style and his penchant for folk-like, pastoral airs. The results are mostly a delight (if a tad lightweight for the libretto’s blood ’n’ thunder deeds), with a variety of attractive arias further enhanced by Arne’s deft use of woodwind. Christopher Robson in the title role and Catherine Bott, thrilling as Mandane, head a fine team of singers: my only complaint is that Patricia Spence’s forceful Arbaces too often slips into shrill and strident mode. Roy Goodman conducts a lively Parley of Instruments and credit is due to Peter Holman for his skilful re-creation of some lost recitatives. Although no masterpiece, Artaxerxes re-emerges in this fine recording as a work of many charms. Graham Lock

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Originally published March 1996