ALBUM TITLE: Handel in Italy, Vol. 1
PERFORMER: Ulrike Schneider, João Fernandes, Christopher Ainslie, Jake Arditti, Ida Falk Winland; Festspiel Orchester Göttingen/Laurence Cummings
CATALOGUE NO: ACC 26404
The sleaze and ambiguities of Agrippina’s plot, cocooned in some of Handel’s most sensual music, make it a sure-fire winner with audiences. This recording from the 2015 Göttingen Handel Festspiel compares favourably with top-drawer rivals such as those conducted by René Jacobs and Jean-Claude Malgoire. Making a virtue of necessity, Lawrence Cummings focuses on the excitement of live production: with furious tempos, eloquent silences and spurts to the finish line, he and the band are dramatic from first measure to last. Cummings also inspires intense interpretations from his singers: the full-throated Ulrike Schneider as the scheming, toxic Agrippina, Ida Falk Winland slinking her way through melodies to peg Poppea’s sex-kitten character, and Jake Arditti as Nerone building to a blistering execution of his celebrated final aria, ‘Come nube che fugge dal vento’.
There are problems, though, with uneven casting and inferior sound production. Bass João Fernandes as Claudio is more convincing dramatically than he is vocally, lagging behind the band due in part to oversinging. Countertenor Christopher Ainslie lacks the vocal robustness – in his top register particularly – needed to convey Ottone’s simmering passions. Other cast members appear to tire by Act III. These quality gaps among the vocalists are heightened by poor microphone placement: recitatives fade away and entries fuzz as cast members move in and out of optimal microphone range. The clatter and thumps of stage business are additional distractions. Berta Joncus