Il Duello Amoroso

Hyperion Helios CDH55136
1 CD
budget price
Recorded in 1984.
Originally released in 1985.
Reissued in 2003.

  • O come chiare e belle (tracks 1-18; HWV 143)
  • Clori, mia bella Clori (tracks 19-26; HWV 92)
  • Armarilli vezzosa ('Il duello amoroso'; tracks 27-37; HWV 82)

Patrizia Kwella, soprano
Gillian Fisher, soprano
Catherine Denley, alto

The London Handel Orchestra (on period instruments)
Conductor: Denys Darlow

At budget price, this disc is an essential purchase for anybody who loves Handel’s Italian cantatas with orchestral accompaniments. The three cantatas featured on this disc are among the best Handel composed while in Italy, and, as far as I can tell, the first two are not otherwise available on disc. ‘O come chiare e belle’ (titled ‘Il Tebro’ in the HWV catalogue) was composed in late summer 1708 and performed for the Marchese Ruspoli, who had recently been close to Pope Clement’s involvement in the War of the Spanish Succession. This political connection is clearly alluded to in the cantata’s libretto, which draws an allegorical comparison between Ruspoli and the shepherd Olinto, who is inspired to raise Rome (represented by the Tiber) to glory. The music is full of appealing imagery, and the arias are both charming and entertaining. Many Handel lovers will be curious about Gloria’s aria ‘Tornami a vagheggiar’, best known as the finale of Act I in Alcina nearly three decades later (the ritornello in the earlier cantata is substantially different, but the opening phrase of the vocal idea and first line of the text are identical to Morgana’s famous aria).

‘Clori, mia bella Clori’ depicts the changing moods of a young man bemoaning the loss of his lover. It is not known when Handel composed it, but, according to Anthony Hicks’s booklet note, it ‘may possibly be the unnamed cantata performed at a conversazione on 26 June 1707, for which two violinist were engaged.’ As with so much of this Italian repertoire, Handel subsequently made good use of its music in London (in this case, the Chandos anthem ‘The Lord is my light’ and the aria ‘Di Sion nell’ alta sede’ in Rinaldo).

Il duello amoroso is likely to be the most familiar cantata on this disc because there are a few other recordings in existence (though it is amazing that an excellent one featuring Andreas Scholl and Maria Cristina Kiehr has not yet been reissued). The cantata dates from August 1708, and, when this recording was made, it had still not been published. It is Handel’s only cantata for soprano and alto, and contains a typically pastoral scenario in which the shepherd Daliso is shamefully treated by his cruel lover Amaryllis. The final duet is unusually cynical about Arcadian love, and it is interesting that its music was later adapted for the similarly cynical final chorus in Poro (1731).

As far as I can ascertain from Hyperion’s catalogue, this forgotten gem from their archives was only ever released on LP in 1985. So, at long last, this delicious recording crammed full of rarities makes its first appearance on CD (although I am sure one of our readers will contact us if I am wrong!). Hyperion is to be praised for reissuing a recording that has surely been largely forgotten in the last decade or so. The performances are fresh, loving, and sympathetic to the graceful beauty of the fusion of music and poetry. The singing is excellent, and Patrizia Kwella is particularly wonderful throughout all three cantatas: although her voice is an acquired taste for some, it is well worth taking the trouble to enjoy the resonant pealing of her high bell-toned coloratura. Kwella’s performance of ‘Clori, mia bella Clori’ may seem clean and pure to those listeners weaned on more recent recordings that feature more operatic or forceful voices, yet I do not think Kwella’s qualities are inappropriate to Handel’s music. I urge you to listen to ‘Mie pupille’ (track 24) if you have any doubts about this disc: voice, continuo, and strings are all simply gorgeous. The direction of Denys Darlow is not really all that noticeable, and, indeed, perhaps that is the secret of his success.

It is a pity that the personnel of the excellent London Handel Orchestra is not listed in the booklet. Only the leader Miles Golding is credited, and, although printing expenses have no doubt been minimised in order to bring this fabulous disc into the catalogue where it so desperately belongs, it would be useful to know who plays the bright trumpet obbligato in the climactic aria of ‘O come chiare e belle’. Likewise, the continuo section in this repertoire is arguably more worthy of a credit than the leader, yet all remain anonymous. Hyperion also make it difficult for the listener to discern which singers tackle each aria, with the libretto text failing to indicate which arias Gillian Fisher and Patrizia Kwella sing in ‘O come chiare e belle’ (I am pretty certain that Kwella is the shepherd Olinto, and so Fisher must therefore be the personification of Glory). Yet it seems churlish to complain about small details when such an excellent and desperately needed disc has been made available at such a fantastic price.

© David Vickers - July 2003

Return to the G. F. Handel Home Page