Sacred Cantatas

BIS CD-1065
1 CD
Recorded in 1999.
Originally released in 2001.
Reissued in 2003.

  • Salve Regina (HWV 241)
  • O qualis de coelo sonus (HWV 239)
  • Trio Sonata in G minor (HWV 393)
  • Coelestis dum spirat aura (HWV 231)
  • Laudate pueri dominum in F major (Psalm 112; HWV 236)

Emma Kirkby, soprano
London Baroque (on period instruments)


This exciting and interesting combination of mature soprano and youthful composer is highly recommended. Emma Kirkby has an impressive Handel discography, and this reissued disc is one of the latest and finest additions. We may get little of the extrovert dash of her voice on earlier discs, but instead we receive a feast of fine music-making. Salve Regina, possibly written in 1707, written for a Roman Catholic festival, has Kirkby smoothly singing its florid vocal lines expressively and effortlessly. Delicate decoration does not detract from her vibrato-less clean attack. Her fleet singing, aided by the clear sound of the instrumentalists, in O qualis, communicates afresh the high quality of Handel's inventiveness and melodic powers. The musical idea at the beginning of "Ad plausus" is an instance of Handel’s unique musical rhetoric that convinces whatever the context, as can be heard in its reappearance forty years later as Septimius's derision air in Theodora.

In the Trio Sonata in G minor the instrumentalists give great pleasure — why don't we hear more of these works played with as much commitment as displayed here? Try the Largo movement for proof of Handel's and London Baroque’s light but sure touch. The string colours emerge with a captivating brilliance.

Kirkby is at her best when she does ‘serene’, and Coelestis dum spirat aura is a plum for her. The voice glows with the inner radiance both of verse and of music as she contemplates Anthony of Padua's apotheosis. Her soprano is ideally suited to this intimate religiosity because she communicates its mystical qualities with such commitment. She preserves its essential prayerfulness by not emoting over-dramatically. And it is so good to hear a harpsichord as the continuo instrument, played neatly and unobtrusively. The ‘Allelujah’ is sufficiently joyous.

Laudate Pueri, which Charles Medlam in his liner note suggests might date from Handel's teenage years, is the most extended item on the disc. 'Sic nomen' is my favourite because players and singers are in perfect accord. Could this be the sort of music-making that gained Handel his invitation to Florence? Kirkby is never shrill. Her articulation is sure-fire; 'principibus' must be a singer's nightmare because (as Handel himself seems to have found) it defies a graceful setting. But it is in jointly elucidating the joy of a mother of children that Emma Kirkby and London Baroque excel. Buy it for this track alone.

Incidentally, the reissued disc is presented in eco-friendly packaging and was shortlisted for the 2002 Handel Recording Prize. Two extra recommendations.

© Les Robarts - July 2003

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