Ombra Cara

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Arias from Amadigi di Gaula, Agrippina, Riccardo primo, Tolomeo, Orlando, Radamisto, Rodelinda & Sosarme
PERFORMER: Bejun Mehta (countertenor), Rosemary Joshua (soprano); Freiburg Baroque/René Jacobs
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902077

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Bejun Mehta’s disc towers above the other Handel ‘medley’ recordings currently fashionable among opera stars. Musicality and a brilliant intelligence emanate from every track. A star since boyhood, Mehta grew up with Handel’s music and his readings display a naturalness and depth rare among jet-setting vocalists.

I appreciate above all his sensitivity to gesture. Handel, like all composers of his days, provided musical cues for the points at which singers should dominate, or step back into the texture. Instinct for these cues is particularly important when performing Handel’s music because he, unlike his rivals, wanted the band to equal the singers in importance. Expressive depth in his operas is only truly plumbed when this happens. Modern vocalists, eager to show their prowess also in Baroque music, tend to steamroll flat expressive moments – particularly those meant to be shared with instrumentalists.

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Mehta and René Jacobs, by contrast, achieve a perfect meeting of musical minds. Thanks to their joint sensitivity, the potency of Handel’s mixture of voice and instruments is overpowering, whatever the mood. Innovative programming reveals a rich Handelian terrain – such as Tolomeo or Sosarme – yet to become familiar. This is not just another aria collection, but a celebration of genius, in composition and performance alike. Berta Joncus