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Handel’s Finest Arias For Base Voice

Christopher Purves; Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Nell’Africane Selve, HWV 136a; Concerto Grosso in F, HWV 315; plus arias from Athalia; Belshazzar; Catone; Esther; Joshua; Rinaldo; Siroe, Re Di Persia; Tolomeo, Re Di Egitto
Christopher Purves (baritone); Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen
Hyperion CDA68152 77:11 mins

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Which singer, active today, has blazed forth in Baroque, Romantic, and contemporary repertoires, including experimental rock? It’s hard to think of anyone but baritone Christopher Purves, who scores another triumph in this recital of solo Handel arias. It’s the second of a two-volume set and follows the first volume’s format. Numbers come from lesser-known works – cantatas, oratorios and opera seria – and are artfully arranged for contrast. Some of Handel’s greatest music was written for bass-baritones, and in Purves finds its ideal interpreter.

Few singers can match the colours, plush timbres, and rugged muscle of Purves’s instrument, and no singer surpasses his dramatic imagination. The situations of Handel’s characters are often difficult for a modern audience to identify with: King Siroe, who has sentenced his son to die; the prophet Caleb, who sees the future; the poet who thinks of his lover as a shepherdess… Yet Purves, through his sensual vocalism, makes them credible. Siroe’s narcissism reveals itself in overegged, ‘sobbing’ notes that smack of self-delusion. Caleb spits out sharp-pointed melismas to paint hell’s flames. Moving from one aria into the next, the poet in love twists from despair into seduction, as Purves urgently whispers: ‘I ask for love, I desire nothing else’.

Since Purves’s first solo Handel recording with director Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo in 2012, director and band have established their top rank. Reunited with Purves for the second volume, they enrich the recording with a fiery rendition of Handel’s Concerto Grosso in F major, HWV 315.

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Berta Joncus