LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: La maga abbandonata: arias, from Rinaldo, Alcina & Amadigi
PERFORMER: Simone Kermes, Maite Beaumont; Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis; Donna Leon (narrator)
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 95644 2 (hybrid SACD)
Handel’s imagination was always kindled by the archetypal figure of the sorceress – menacing, sexually voracious, but cursed by the weakness of loving passionately. And the roles celebrated in this ‘concept album’ devised by Alan Curtis and mystery writer Donna Leon – the fire-snorting Armida in Rinaldo and the more complex, human Alcina and Melissa (Amadigi) – are among his most graphically drawn. All three sorceresses are taken here by soprano Simone Kermes, whose persistently fast vibrato can be intrusive, but who phrases with style and characterises thoughtfully. Melissa’s furious invocation to the infernal spirits ideally needs more sheer venom. But Kermes movingly catches the pathos and despair of Alcina’s ‘Ah! mio cor’, and the mingled grief and panic of her ‘Ombra pallide’; and she flares up imperiously in the coloratura outburst of Armida’s ‘Ah! crudel’.
As the various victims of these femmes fatales, the young Spanish mezzo Maite Beaumont impresses with her firm, glowing tone and dramatic conviction, whether in the nostalgic ‘Verdi prati’ (the rondo melody expressively decorated on its repeats) or the heroic bravado of ‘Sta nell’Ircana’. Alan Curtis directs with his usual Handelian understanding, though I would have liked a bit more fire and snap in the faster numbers. Some of the ordering of items is questionable and I could have done without the ‘bonus track’ – Leon reading an extract from her Venetian mystery Acqua alta. Still, ‘concept’ apart, Handel lovers should find plenty to enjoy here. Richard Wigmore