Cantate per il Cardinal Pamphili (Rome, 1706-1707)
Glossa GCD 921521
Recorded in 2005.
Released in 2006.
Roberta Invernizzi (soprano)
La Risonanza (on period instruments)
Fabio Bonizzoni (harpsichord & direction)
Here is the first volume of a projected complete series of Handel's cantatas that feature either orchestral accompaniment or have a few obbligato instruments (these are known as 'cantate con strumenti'). These were mainly composed in Italy between 1706 and 1710, and La Risonanza hope that the nine-volume series will conclude in 2009. Those cantatas composed in London between 1711 and 1723 (including 'Mi palpita il cor') will not be included in the series.
The first volume presents four cantatas from the Italian period: Tra le fiamme and Il Delirio amoroso were composed in 1707 for Handel’s patron Benedetto Pamphili, who also wrote the libretto texts. The shorter and more intimate Pensieri notturni di Filli could have been composed in Rome too, while Figlio d’alte speranze was probably composed in Florence or Venice. They mainly deal with love in an Arcadian context but offer very different approaches. Tra le fiamme, with Handel's fine use of viola da gamba and the evocation of the moth being burned by flying to close to a naked flame is quite moralizing. Pensieri notturni offers an intellectual and sentimental game between dream and reality; Figlio d’alte speranze is a reflection on Fortune and Power. The more extensive cantata Delirio amoroso is an evocation of hallucinatory madness in which Clori imagines she enters the realm of the dead to conduct her disdaining lover to the Elysian fields. This programme is a very good occasion to remember that on one hand the chamber cantatas are definitely not small scale operas (though not composed for theatres they are dramatic, but in different ways) and on the other hand the metaphors, allegories, or the Arcadian contexts are not just an excuse to compose nice music. The subtlety of Ellen T. Harris’s presentation text perfectly fits the nature of those works.
What about the performance? Surprisingly this point is not that easy to discuss. The performers, singer and instrumentalists are always fine, stylish, accurate, consistent, and never grandiloquent. The chamber atmosphere seems ideal. An analysis of what we hear leads to almost no reproach, but something indefinable seems to be lacking. Maybe something more spectacular is needed in Roberta Invernizzi’s singing, or perhaps simply a closer and warmer recorded sound. It is possible that some short instrumental pieces inserted between the cantatas might have enabled the listener to take total advantage of the subtlety of Handel's flashes of musical wit without an overload of similar textures. But on the whole this is an excellent recording release, and one hopes that future volumes will contain at least as many elegant beauties.
© Philippe Gelinaud - December 2006
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