Handel: Tamerlano

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Avie
WORKS: Tamerlano
PERFORMER: Monica Bacelli, Thomas Randle, Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz, Graham Pushee; The English Concert/Trevor Pinnock
CATALOGUE NO: AV 0001 (distr. Independent Distribution)
Tamerlano (1724) is an unusual example of Baroque opera seria. Its denouement is genuinely tragic, its chief heroic role (Bajazet) is sung by a tenor and the recitative is not only gripping drama but, in Bajazet’s death scene, extremely moving too. This scene, the opera’s climax, is a brilliant artistic coup: Handel vividly portrays the dying emperor’s volatile, increasingly incoherent emotions in a seamless flow of secco, accompagnato, arioso and poignant mini-aria. Overall, Handel’s music is relatively austere, with few of his trademark sensuous touches. Yet several exquisite arias do nestle among the high drama and political intrigue.

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Trevor Pinnock’s new set was recorded during performances at London’s Sadler’s Wells in June 2001. There’s a serious problem with the singers, of whom only countertenor Graham Pushee (Andronico) sounds completely at ease. Thomas Randle, though an authoritative Bajazet, tends to sacrifice musical nuance to robust intensity, while Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz’s Asteria is overwrought to the point (at times) of shrillness. Anna Bonitatibus makes a feisty Irene, although her excessive vibrato spoils one of Handelloveliest arias.

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The English Concert, all stylish gusto, is the set’s major asset, but it’s not enough to displace John Eliot Gardiner’s 1985 recording (mid-price Erato) as my benchmark. His soloists, who include Nancy Argenta, Michael Chance, Derek Lee Ragin and Nigel Robson, are more attentive to the beauty in Handel’s score and deliver a more musically satisfying performance. Graham Lock