Delirio Amoroso - Italian Secular Cantatas
Recorded in 1997.
Originally released as Collins Classics 15032.
Reissued in 2005.
Ann Murray, mezzo-soprano
The Symphony of Harmony and Invention (on period instruments)
Director: Harry Christophers
This recording is not new, but its attractive repackaging is typical of the high quality reissues on the Sixteen’s own independent Coro label. If you do not have the original Collins release, do not hesitate to add this reissue to your Handel collection. The music is delightful from start to finish, radiating the sort of warmth and brilliance that makes so much of Handel’s Italian period (1706-10) rewarding and compelling.
The cantata Delirio amoroso was composed at Rome in early 1707, for its librettist Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili. In his booklet essay, Anthony Hicks suggests that the cantata might have been created for ‘a simple form of staging’, particularly because of the inclusion of several dance movements (opera was banned in Rome at that time). The charming aria ‘Lascia omai le brune vele’ contains musical ideas that Handel used for ‘Hush, ye pretty warbling choir’ in Acis & Galatea eleven years later, and even an opening motif for solo flute that he used for his last violin sonata and the Angel’s sinfonia in Jephtha (both composed in the early 1750s).
Although the autograph manuscript of ‘Clori, mia bella Clori’ has survived and is now in the British Library, it is not known exactly when or for whom Handel composed it. It probably also dates from 1707, and could have been created for Cardinal Pamphili, or Handel’s principal Roman patron the Marchese Maria Ruspoli. Armida abbandonata was certainly written for Ruspoli, and probably first sung by Durastanti - the soprano who would later star in Radamisto, Ottone, Giulio Cesare, and more of Handel’s Royal Academy operas in London.
It was a pleasure to become reacquainted with these cantatas in performances I have previously admired. As time goes by, I find myself less attracted to the shock tactics and abrasive forcefulness that characterize many recordings of this repertoire, and thus find it harder to reconcile the notions of baroque style and sentiment with aggressive histrionics. How refreshing, then, to return to a disc which is notable for its natural and lyrical approach. Few singers can master the sudden contrasts between pathos and high melodrama as effective as Ann Murray, and she is particularly superb at allowing Handel’s melodic empathy for the suffering lovers in these three cantatas to speak for itself in ‘pathetick’ music such as ‘Mie pupille’ (HWV 92) and ‘Ah, crudele’ (HWV 105). Murray and Harry Christophers are never shy to allow the music to be lovely and unflaggingly eloquent. However, the anguished accompanied recitative ‘O voi, dell’inconstante’ and the vengeful aria ‘Venti, fermate, sì’ in Armida Abbandonata contain plenty of attack and vigour.
As with the recent recital disc by Sarah Connolly, this is a rare example of a Coro release that does not actually feature the Sixteen, but a soloist and chamber-scale baroque orchestra under the direction of Harry Christophers. The affectionate and delicious introduction to Delirio amoroso features a witty oboe solo expertly played by Anthony Robson, supported with lean sprightly continuo and strings. In the same cantata, Walter Reiter’s violin solo in ‘Un pensiero voloi in ciel’ is comparably delightful, especially when followed so charismatically by two-part cellos and Robson’s evocative oboe in a sweeping flourish before Murray sings of the fair soul which has robbed her of her peace. The instrumental rhetoric and the vocal phrasing in this beguiling aria is perfect, and utterly unlike some acclaimed performances which seem to be race between the solo violinist and the rest of the band to see who can finish first. Rachel Beckett’s graceful flute solo in ‘Lascia omai le brune vele’ is another of the many delights.
It is a measure of the extent of the early music revolution that Christophers’ stylish and intelligent direction might be described as moderate, but this disc never drags, can hardly be called pedestrian, and yet never seems to trip over its own feet or stumble in a blind panic. There is ample vitality and energy here, but Christophers and Murray prove that style is simply a key to unlock the richness and depth in these cantatas, not an isolated means to an end. I hate to nit-pick about a disc I enjoyed so much, but it would be honest and informative if the original recording sessions and release dates were included somewhere in the documentation.
© David Vickers - March 2005 (revised 2 April)
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