LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Mitologia: arias, duets and overtures from Il Parnasso in festa, Semele, Hercules, Apollo e Dafne, Atalanta, Partenope, and Echeggiate, festeggiate!
PERFORMER: Christiane Karg (soprano), Romina Basso (contralto); Il Complesso Barocco/ Alan Curtis
CATALOGUE NO: 88875199812
On 15 July 2015, the legendary Handel interpreter Alan Curtis died. Curtis didn’t just revive forgotten works by Handel, he gave us ears to hear them. This disc testifies to his extraordinary legacy, and to the genius he shared with Handel to make music tell stories.
The disc’s programme is contrived to show the psychological depth Handel gave to mythical characters. This can happen only if the musicians grasp the effects that Handel was after; Curtis divines Handel’s intentions, and adds his own. For what turned out to be his last recording session, Curtis chose scenes of intense experience, from the tender mutual love of Atalante and Meleagro to Orfeo’s despair at the death of Eurydice. Led by Curtis at the keyboard, soprano Christiane Karg and contralto Romina Basso draw inner character out of Handel’s score. Singing Orfeo’s aria, Karg floats a motionless straight tone – a vocal production unusual for her – over the band’s stumbling dotted rhythms, as sorrow alters Orfeo’s experience of time. As the sex kitten Semele, Karg is the essence of coquetry, wilfully refusing to follow the band. In the mad scene of Hercules’ wife Dejinara, Basso’s fioratura and the band’s heft explode the confines of the normal.
My one regret is that Basso’s English pronunciation is occasionally laboured. Such moments scarcely impact, however, on this incandescent last recording of a sorely-missed artist.