Love Duets

ATMA Classique ACD2 2260
1 CD
full price
Recorded in 2002
Released in 2002

  • Rinaldo (HWV 7a):
    • “Scherzano sul tuo volto”
    • Prélude
    • "Cara sposa"
    • “Lascia ch’io pianga”
  • Ouverture (HWV 337)
  • Tolomeo (HWV 25): “Se il cor ti perde”
  • Rodelinda (HWV 19):
    • "Ombre, piante”
    • “Io t’abbraccio"
  • Giulio Cesare in Egitto (HWV 17):
    • "Caro! Bella!"
    • Ouverture
    • “Da tempeste”
  • Serse (HWV 40): "Ombra mai fù"

Suzie LeBlanc (soprano)
Daniel Taylor (countertenor)

Arion (on period instruments)
Stephen Stubbs (conductor)

Daniel Taylor and Suzie LeBlanc are comfortably among the finest genuine specialist baroque singers currently in the business. While some of their colleagues achieve a greater degree of global stardom thanks to a fortunate enhancement of their talent by glossy marketing, Taylor and LeBlanc record their recitals for the small independent Canadian label ATMA Classique. Yet this new disc entitled “Love Duets” proves yet again that this state of affairs is obviously not an artistic disadvantage.

The excellent ensemble Arion, on this occasion directed by lutenist Stephen Stubbs, also play several orchestral numbers, including the seldom-heard Overture (HWV 337) that was probably composed in the early 1720s for an unascertainable purpose. The disc, despite its title, most notably features several solo arias. Taylor sings sublime renditions of “Cara sposa” and “Ombra mai fù”: his sweetness of tone and sensitive musicianship is fully evident, although one or two of the generally judicious ornaments in the da capo of “Cara sposa” may be better suited to the spontaneity of the stage than the repeated playback of the recording studio. That said, it is sung with great pathos, and compares favorably with the best previous efforts at “Cara sposa” (for example, David Daniels on his Virgin Classics recital, and Carolyn Watkinson on Malgoire’s ‘complete’ recording of Rinaldo). Suzie LeBlanc turns out marvellous accounts of “Lascia ch’io pianga”, “Ombre, piante” and “Da tempeste”: her expressive command of the Italian text and agile voice – firm yet clean – make one wonder why she is not much more familiar to Handel lovers in the theatre. However, it is exciting to hear LeBlanc singing some Italianate Handel on disc at long last. May there be much more to come.

Although none of these arias are particularly unusual recital fare, the remaining third of the disc is a refreshing departure from convention. The duets from Rinaldo, Giulio Cesare, Rodelinda, and Tolomeo are aptly chosen for their self-evident emotional contrast and musical quality, and they are given fine performances that show an understanding of their original dramatic context. The rapturous “Caro! Bella!” - in which Giulio Cesare and Cleopatra celebrate their love and freedom from adversity - is neatly sprung and affectionate, with Taylor and LeBlanc beautifully capturing the erotic quality that bubbles slightly under its convivial surface. “Io t’abbraccio” from Rodelinda is heartbreaking, and, despite not being drawn from a complete performance of the opera, it demonstrates a full portrait of Bertarido and Rodelinda’s grief as they are parted for what they believe is the last time.

Such elements add to up a satisfying experience, both in terms of the quality of performance and the freshness of the programme’s concept. Indeed, one ought to be grateful to ATMA for allowing musicians of this calibre to put together a disc that does not merely contain the same old usual things. Arion, LeBlanc, Taylor, and Stubbs seem eminently capable of producing something more substantial and special, such as a complete opera, although it is understandable that ATMA dare not tread in such financially precarious waters. However, those who are already admirers of Taylor and LeBlanc will need little convincing of this disc’s many treasures. I hope that other Handelians not yet familiar with these artists will find a great deal on this delightful disc.

© David Vickers - January 2003

Return to the G. F. Handel Home Page