The Handel Institute
The Handel Institute

Handel Operatic Arias

Linn Records SACD CKD 252
1 CD
full price
Recorded in 2004.
Released in 2005.

Desterò dall empia dite (from Amadigi)
M'hai resa infelice (from Deidamia)
Piangerò la sorte mia (from Guilio Cesare)
Scherza in mar (from Lotario)
Ombre piante (from Rodelinda)
Se'l mio duol (from Rodelinda)
Tutta raccolta ancor (from Scipione)
Orrida agli occhi miei (from Ariodante)
Ah, crudel (from Rinaldo)
Sommi Dei (from Radamisto)
Barbaro partiro (from Radamisto)

Emma Bell, soprano
Scottish Chamber Orchestra (on modern instruments)
Director: Richard Egarr


Hot on the heels of Handel aria recitals by Sandrine Piau (Naïve), Sarah Connolly (Coro), Renee Fleming (Decca), Maria Riccarda Wesseling (Claves) and others, there is a danger that Emma Bell might not be able to offer anything more substantial than a showcase for her own voice. Emma Bell has gained a strong reputation for her steely performances of the title-role in Rodelinda and has recently sung Alcina in Berlin and recorded the role of Merab in Saul (under Jacobs). But, to my ears, Emma Bell is not really a natural Handel singer and too often makes runs intended to display agility and technique seem like aggresive hard work. Compared to the finest Handel sopranos active at the moment (Karina Gauvin, Dominique Labelle, Simone Kermes, Sandrine Piau, Carolyn Sampson, Deborah York, Rosemary Joshua), Emma Bell’s powerful vibrato and melodramatic intensity often seems at odds with Handel’s musical vocabulary. At best, it might remind some of Joan Sutherland. That is by no means a bad thing, but it might not be best suited to any given Handel role.

This is not a bad programme. It mixes a few popular well-known warhorses alongside some less obvious contenders. It is good to see somebody championing ‘D’estero all empio dite’ (from Amadigi), even if it has been included on recitals by Jeni Bern and Simone Kermes (La Maga Abbandonata on DHM). It is also good to see ‘Scherza in mar’ being pushed to the forefront of the soprano repertory, although this performance seems curiously pedestrian and lacks the defiant personality and heroism that Simone Kermes captures so effectively on Alan Curtis’ recent recording of Lotario. Here it seems rather like it could be an extract from one of Leopold Hager’s recordings of early Mozart operas.

Two arias from Radamisto and ‘Tutta raccolta ancor’ (from Scipione) are among the best things here and prevent the recital from becoming predictable and boring. It is difficult to justify yet another outing for ‘Piangerò la sorte mia (from Giulio Cesare) unless it is an exemplary and beautiful performance. I do not find Emma Bell’s shaping of Handel’s melodic writing to be particularly sympathetic or lovely, although others might disagree or respond better to Bell’s undeniably full-frontal dramatic attack.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra is well versed in playing 18th century music under Sir Charles Mackerras. They provide neat and efficient accompaniment but do not become part of the drama in the way that Les Talens Lyriques do on Sandrine Piau’s magnificent recital. Richard Egarr brings out a lot of appealing elements of Handel’s orchestral writing. While I remain undecided about Emma Bell in Handel (her contribution to René Jacobs’ Saul is much more vocally comfortable than her own Handel recital is), I am certainly keen to hear Egarr’s forthcoming collaborations with the Academy of Ancient Music and Harmonia mundi.

© David Vickers - September 2005

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