PERFORMER: Cecilia Bartoli, David Daniels, Gerald Finley, Luba Orgonasova, Bernarda Fink; Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood
CATALOGUE NO: 467 087-2
For those who flocked to hear Bartoli sing in Rinaldo with the Academy of Ancient Music last year, this recording more than lives up to the live performance. Boasting a uniformly excellent cast – David Daniels on peak form as Rinaldo, Bartoli as an Almirena of vivid immediacy, a powerful Argante in Gerald Finley – and the AAM on bristling form, this disc is without doubt the new benchmark.
One only has to compare it with its only current rival, the hearty but rhythmically slack rendering under Jean-Claude Malgoire (Sony, 1977) to appreciate the achievement. The recorded sound is close and well-balanced for a start, even if Bartoli’s breath is sometimes down one’s neck. She brings a profound pathos to the role of Almirena, and her way of lingering and withdrawing sound in her arias on the subject of threatened love are most affecting. Beside her, Ileana Cotrubas’s Almirena on Sony revels in the delectable melodies, but lends nothing of Bartoli’s urgency to the meaning of the words.
The same can be said of Finley’s Argante: he attacks the aria ‘Basta, che sol tu chieda’ with passionate vigour, while Ulrik Cold (Sony) sings very nicely indeed but fails to communicate. Above all, this recording returns to Handel’s original intentions of having Almirena and Armida played by women and Rinaldo and Goffredo as two castrati (here countertenor) voices. In the delightful love duet among the birds in Act I, Daniels and Bartoli tumble over each other with excitement, the jewel-like brightness of the latter a brilliant match to the plangent sweetness of the former. If their engagement in the drama is consummate, so is Hogwood’s – the orchestra races headlong during the storm and provides a wonderfully keen accompaniment to Rinaldo’s lament that follows. Moreover, instead of the appallingly-tuned ‘birdsong’ of the flutes in the Sony version, Hogwood provides real birdsong underneath a finely pitched recorder consort.
Luba Orgonasova as Armida seduces with a blend of fragility and determination, while Bernarda Fink is a lusty Goffredo. A welcome return for Handel’s first London opera.