Handel: Arias for Cuzzoni

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Berlin Classics
WORKS: Extracts from Scipione, Giulio Cesare, Alessandro, Rodelinda, Siroe, Tolomeo, Flavio, Riccardo primo & Admeto
PERFORMER: Simone Kermes (soprano); Lautten Compagney Berlin/Wolfgang Katschner
CATALOGUE NO: 0016422 BC

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In her collection of 14 arias – two of which, both from Rodelinda, are claimed as first recordings, at least in the rejected versions heard here – German soprano Simone Kermes emulates her great predecessor Francesca Cuzzoni, one of the stars of her day and a regular collaborator of Handel’s for several seasons. Other than the music she sang and some contemporary reports, we have little idea how Cuzzoni sounded; but she must have possessed a formidable technique to encompass the arias composed for her.

Kermes demonstrates a pretty high level of accuracy, too, in showpieces like the Scipione aria that opens this disc, and possesses lots of spirit. But she is less good at shaping phrases than at delivering notes almost as individual entities. In terms of intonation, the odd one goes slightly awry. In slower arias, she sounds affected, even mannered in delivery. 

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But it’s the sound in this studio recording that does most damage. A veiled and over-resonant acoustic more often encountered in crossover albums makes Kermes take a back seat to the orchestra, whose playing is strikingly characterful. But her words practically disappear, her top register sounds brittle and occasionally her gestures become whoop-like. Her performances come a poor second
to the over-styled sound. George Hall