Apollo e Dafne (cantata)
~ HWV 122 ~
Silete venti (motet)
~ HWV 242 ~
Dorian Recordings CD-90288
Recorded in 2000.
Released in 2000.
Karina Gauvin, soprano
Russell Braun, baritone
Les Violons du Roy (on period instruments)
Bernard Labadie, conductor
Two of Handel’s most sumptuous Italianate works are featured on this delectable recording. The motet Silete venti was probably composed in London c.1724 (or at least no later than 1732 when it was incorporated into the first public version of Esther). The secular (well, non-Christian anyway) dramatic cantata Apollo e Dafne originates from his earlier Italian period, but was probably finished in Hanover in 1710. While at first glance a world apart in subject matter, there is a connection in the ecstatic longings, of the devout soul for Jesus in the motet, and of Apollo for Dafne in the cantata.
The opening symphonia of the motet begins in gentle devotional mode, then gradually works itself up to a turbulent whirlwind brought to a halt by the imperious interjection of the soprano: ‘Silete, silete venti!’ and a few lines of recitative. Then follows an aria inviting Jesu to pierce her, in lines reminiscent of the ecstatic excesses of Saint Teresa of Avila. Karina Gauvin delivers this with appropriate rapt intensity in a pure even soprano, coloured by judicious use of vibrato to impart urgency, and with crystalline diction. In the da capo she increases the emotional intensity with small but telling ornamental effects. The following recitativo accompagnata is also warm and urgent, followed by the aria ‘Date serta’ in which Gauvin’s voice soars with joy, her coloratura smooth and accurate and with a rich gleam on the upper notes. In the concluding ‘Alleluia’, her notes tumble over the cascading orchestra.
Les Violons du Roy play on modern instruments (apart from the harpsichord, theorbo, and period bows), but you would hardly notice, given their lack of vibrato and close attention to period practice. Bernard Labadie has chosen his tempi carefully, avoiding both the stately pace of earlier times and the rushed impetuosity of some more recent recordings, and producing well differentiated readings of the several parts of the work; the ‘Alleluia’ is particularly sprightly without leaving one with that out of breath feeling.
These virtues are continued in Apollo e Dafne, where the same forces are joined by Russell Braun, billed as baritone, a fach hardly known to the composer. His lighter style of voice, compared to other performers of the role (David Thomas, Michael George, Jérôme Correas), suffers in the very lowest notes but lends a more youthful ardour while avoiding woofiness.
The cantata is performed without an overture, the original being lost, although other performances use a concerto movement to substitute, or, in the case of the Correas recording (he conducts Les Paladins as well as sings) the overture from Rodrigo. This in fact makes for a dramatic start with Apollo declaring La terra è liberata, the earth is freed, by my efforts he means, and continues to extol his own manly virtues in a series of recitatives and arias with imagery of the most phallic kind. Sniping at Cupid soon brings the appropriate revenge as he is smitten with the sight of Dafne, who is not the least interested in his virile charms. The heroine introduces herself with a relaxed siciliana declaring the advantages of freedom from romantic ties. The ensuing inevitable conflict is expressed in a series of duet recitatives, duets and arias, with Apollo ever more ardently pressing his suite, and Dafne resisting to the end, until she is turned into a tree. Even Apollo has to admit defeat at this stroke, but at least he can wear her ever on his brow in the form of a laurel wreath.
The singers convey a believable conflict, Gauvin sounding determined to resist without veering into shrillness, Apollo driven by desire but not to unseemly panting or barking. In the duets their voices match well for fleetness and flexibility, although her voice is noticeably stronger. In ‘Deh! lascia addolcire’, the contrast turns somewhat, with his attempt at gentle persuasion and her furious resistance compellingly portrayed. ‘Felicissima quest’alma’ (the siciliana) is delivered in very gentle style without being too slow. Braun gives what must be close to a definitive rendition of the very beautiful aria of Apollo, ‘Coma rosa in su la spina’. Every word clearly delivered with expressive nuance, apart again from the lack of weight in the bottom of the range.
There are many recordings available of both these works, although I am unaware of any other pairings of them. Lynne Dawson, with Harry Christophers and the Sixteen, gives Gauvin a run for her money with Silete venti, and those avid for the authentic will certainly want the Correas recording of Apollo e Dafne (released in 2002), but for both works and as an inspired coupling, this one is definitely a must-have.
© Sandra Bowdler - July 2003
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