Cantates Romaines

Accord 465 939-2
1 CD
Recorded in 1993
Originally released in 1993
Reissued in 2002

Maria-Cristina Kiehr, soprano
Ensemble Il Teatro Armonico (on period instruments)
Conductor: Alessandro de Marchi




Unlike a great many of Handel’s ‘chamber’ cantatas (intended to be accompanied by only a harpsichord and cello at most), his Italian secular cantatas composed for soprano and instrumental ensemble are no longer rare on disc. The three cantatas on this reissued disc that fit into this category are now accessible on many other recordings, although when this was originally recorded as recently as 1993 both the soloist and repertoire were relatively esoteric in commercial terms. 9 years later, two of the featured cantatas (“Nell dolce dell’oblio” and “Mentre il tutto e’ in furore”) still remain obscure apart from this recording.

All the cantatas featured on this fine disc date from Handel’s period in Italy, including the ‘Spanish’ cantata “No se emenderà jamas”. This is a delightful piece that is known to have been copied for Prince Ruspoli (one of Handel’s principal patrons in Rome), and it features Handel’s only scoring to include guitar. Armida Abbandonata is an intense cantata, more dramatic than its pastoral contemporaries, and since 1993 it has been recorded at least twice by well-known performers on major record labels (Eva Mei and Il Giardino Armonico on Teldec, and Véronique Gens and Les Basses Réunies on Virgin). “Tu fedel, tu costante” is most likely to be familiar to Handelians due to a rather clean and neat version by Emma Kirkby and The Academy of Ancient Music (Decca).

Yet there is a good case for Universal Classics (France) reissuing this disc. Kiehr is now a highly respected singer of 17th century repertoire thanks to her Harmonia Mundi recordings and impressive work with Cantus Cölln, but she also sings Handel with a genuine feeling for the emotional language and with tangible dedication. Her voice may not match the taste of every listener, but listeners without prejudice against the European ‘Early music’ vocal style will doubtless already be admirers of her singing already. The Ensemble Il Teatro Armonico give particularly persuasive performances, with director Alessandro de Marchi adopting perfect tempi and encouraging a satisfying blend between the small band of instruments. He has not made any major Handel recordings yet, but directed some musically astute and articulate performances of Deidamia at this year’s Halle Handel Festival, and these cantata recordings also abound with crisp, intelligent, and musical readings. De Marchi appears to be one of the finest of the new emerging generation of Italian baroque specialists, and hopefully it will not be too long before he is allowed an opportunity to sink his teeth into a substantial Handel recording project.

Accord also released a sequel volume, Cantates Romaines II. This featured the same performers in a similar program, but additionally included a significant and marvellous contribution by the young Andreas Scholl (who seems most at home in this repertoire, and has still not sung Handel better since). This obscure gem has been unavailable for a long time. Surely today’s Scholl-crazy classical music market would sustain its prompt reissue.

© David Vickers - July 2002

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