Arcadian Duets

Virgin Veritas 5 45524 2
1 CD
full price
Recorded in 2001 & 2002
Released in 2002

  • Ahi, nelle sorte umane (HWV 179): Dessay / Gens
  • No, di voi non vuo fidarmi (HWV 189): Claycomb / Panzarella
  • Caro autor di mia doglia (HWV 182a): Petibon / Agnew
  • Quel fior che all'alba ride (HWV 192): Panzarella / Petibon
  • Conservate, raddoppiate (HWV 185): Asawa / Lascarro
  • Tanti strali al sen mi scocchi (HWV 197): Mingardo / Claycomb
  • Va, speme infida (HWV 199): Claycomb / Panzarella
  • A miravi io son intento (HWV 178): Petibon / Mijanovic
  • Sono liete, fortunate (HWV 194): Mingardo / Claycomb

Natalie Dessay, soprano
Laura Claycomb, soprano
Véronique Gens, soprano
Patricia Petibon, soprano
Juanita Lascarro, soprano
Anna Maria Panzarella, soprano
Sara Mingardo, alto
Marijana Mijanovic, alto
Brian Asawa, countertenor
Paul Agnew, tenor

Le Concert d'Astrée (on period instruments)
Director: Emmanuelle Haïm (harpsichord)

The duetto da camera was a very popular genre through the whole Europe during the baroque era. Almost all of the most famous Italian – and assimilated – composers wrote such works for academies, courts, and amateur demand for such publications was very high. We could name, for example, the padre Martini, or Agostino Steffani, who was Handel’s predecessor as Kapellmeister in Hanover at the end of the 17th century and particularly famous all over Europe for his duets.

This new recording is an anthology of Handel chamber duets and the first recording of Emmanuelle Haïm for Virgin Classics (other Handelian recordings are already announced). Some recordings of Handel duets already exist, but this one is definitely bringing something new. Most of those recordings, whatever their qualities – for example the very good ones with Gillian Fischer and James Bowman under Robert King on Hyperion or with La Venexiana on Cantus – are quite monotonous. This is mainly due those recordings consisting of soprano and alto duets all sung by the same interpreters during the whole CD. Furthermore, Handel’s duets were not created in order to be listened to one after another. For her first recording, Emmanuelle Haïm wanted to gather some of her favourite singers, and the result is a particularly varied programme with duets for soprano and alto, two sopranos or soprano and tenor, sung by a dozen of singers.

Handel’s chamber duets are often difficult to date with accuracy. He composed them during his stay in Italy, in Germany and in England, for a period of almost forty years. They are sometimes in two movements but often in three contrasted movements with various schemes of tempos. They depict the effects of love on the suffering human soul in a pastoral mood, and are inspired by the arcadian academies that appeared in Italy at the end of the 17th century. The accompaniment is provided by only the continuo. On a historical point of view, we could wonder about the pertinence of the use of an organ. Though too systematically used in slow sections, it sometimes brings another element of variety and gives a special colour and deepness to the most meditative moments.

Very few criticisms can be made to the singers. We can regret some dryness in Brian Asawa’s and Marjana Mijanovic’s voices, and a relative lack of invention in ornaments or, quite simply, a relative lack of ornaments. Balancing this on the other pan of the scales is the commitment of all the singers, the quality of their singing, and the variety of their inflexions. Among the many highlights of this recording we can point out the deepness of feeling and the play with colour in Natalie Dessay’s and Véronique Gens’s performance of “Ahi, nelle sorte umane”. Laura Claycomb’s virtuosity and sense of drama is a source of much pleasure, particularly when associated with Sara Mingardo’s beautiful voice and singing. Superb works with a no less superb interpretation.

© Philippe Gelinaud - November 2002

Return to the G. F. Handel Home Page