Handel – Arias from Agrippina, etc

Avery Amereau (contralto), et al (Philharmonia Baroque)

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PBP 13 _Handel

Handel
Arias from Agrippina, Rinaldo, Silla, Amadigi, Giulio Cesare, etc
Avery Amereau (contralto); Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale/Nicholas McGegan
Philharmonia Baroque PBP 13   76:09 mins

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This excellently researched, attractively assembled recording focuses on arias in the contralto range, in their time variously sung both by women and castrati. The range of expression and vocal agility required is apparent from the start with a dizzyingly virtuoso aria from Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, a predecessor of the much better known Acis and Galatea, and a superb example of the brilliance with which Handel in his early 20s captivated Italian audiences.

Avery Amereau’s sonorous contralto is ideal for this repertoire. ‘Cara sposa’ from Rinaldo is exquisitely shaded with a beautifully ornamented da capo, and the two arias from Giulio Cesare, Cornelia’s heart-broken ‘Priva son d’ogni conforto’ and Cesare’s aria of despair ‘Dall’ondoso periglio’, are deeply moving. These essentially contemplative arias are balanced by some flashy display numbers: the warlike ‘Con tromba guerriera’ from Silla and the spectacular ‘Or La tromba’, the concluding aria of Rinaldo, are delivered superbly. An exception is ‘Benche tuoni’ from Aci, Galatea e Polifemo with Amereau sounding a little uneasy with its fiery vocal gymnastics.

The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, directed by Nicholas McGegan, one of today’s pre-eminent Handelian conductors, provides much more than mere accompaniment, participating fully in the drama of this rewarding collection.

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Jan Smaczny