A Treasury of Handel Compositions
Handel is a composer who is notoriously famed for his self-borrowings. Therefore, it is always a pleasure to find a CD containing solely early works –one can find many ‘old friends’. Handel’s years in Italy from about 1706 until 1710 are generally slightly neglected by scholars, as well as by performers. It has been only in recent years that Handel’s works from that time have moved a bit more into the limelight (perhaps connected with a Gloria from this period, which some scholars attribute to Handel?). In any case, the present CD is a very welcome contribution to a discography of Handel’s earlier works.
While Handel stayed in Rome, he was supported mainly by two important, influential, and music loving patrons: the Cardinals Ottoboni and Pamphili. The present CD contains music that is linked with Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili, who maintained a large musical establishment at his Roman residence. It was Pamphili who wrote the text of Il Delirio Amoroso (HWV 90) and of Tra le fiamme (HWV 170), both recorded on this disc. However, as Ellen T. Harris states in her notes, Pensiere notturni di Filli (HWV 134), the second piece on this CD, was probably not written for Pamphili; according to Harris it seems more likely that it was written for the marquis Ruspoli, a later Italian patron of Handel’s. Equally, Figlio d’alte speranze (HWV 113), the last piece on this CD, was possibly written in Venice in 1706, before Handel began his work for Pamphili; although one can of course never preclude that he may have repeated an earlier piece for Pamphili.
Other reviewers of this CD have criticised that the title may be misleading, given that not all the pieces are clearly linked with Pamphili. From a scholarly point of view one could perhaps have wished for a bit more caution in the choice of title; however, from a musical point of view it cannot but be conceded that this is a marvellous CD. The performance is excellent throughout. The core piece of the CD is Delirio Amoroso, one of the few pieces of this period in Handel’s œuvre that has become something of a favourite with performers and audiences. There are several very good recordings of the piece, foremost the immaculate, highly recommended recording with Anne Murray and the Symphony of Harmony and Invention under Harry Christophers (Collins Classics, 1997). However, hearing Roberta Invernizzi one may think that this is a new piece.
Invernizzi has made herself a name as an expert of music of this period, especially Italian music. Her recordings comprise an astonishing array of masterpieces, and this CD is certainly one of the gems in her discography. There is little need to promote Invernizzi; but it is instructive to point out that the sound of her voice and especially her technique are similar to Emma Kirkby, probably one of the greatest Handel singers of the twentieth century. Although the timbre of Invernizzi’s voice is less distinct than that of Kirkby (which is truly unique), it is somewhat fuller and her singing has a certain Mediterranean warmth and inspiration that is missing in Kirby’s immaculately polished interpretations, and that make her the perfect choice for this CD. Invernizzi’s approach to Handel’s cantatas is natural and without pretence, and the fact that she is a native speaker may have been helpful here: it can be heard that the words have a deeper meaning for her, that the words touch not only her embouchure but also her heart. For the duration of her singing the ‘Delirio Amoroso’, the ecstasy of love, is present. Furthermore, her performance is well-informed and captures the spirit of the music. For example, the improvised cadenza at the beginning of the piece is authentic, in that it is just what Handel’s singer might have done. The improvisations of both Invernizzi and the solo violinist David Plantier in the aria Un pensiero voli in ciel (track 14) are simply delightful. It is details like these that give this recording a liveliness distinct from others. This is music written in Italy and in Italian – and indeed, it appears that native Italians have some advantage when performing it.
La Risonanza under Fabio Bonizzoni is a perfect instrumental accompaniment for Invernizzi. As a matter of fact, they are not simply accompanying her; but neither do the instruments ever push her aside – not even in their solo passages. There is always the sense of music performed together, as an ensemble. This is apparent from the very beginning, Handel’s marvellous opening of Tra le fiamme, which employs the whole instrumental consort of oboe, two recorders, strings and basso continuo. Despite the great ensemble, each instrument can be heard very clearly, a fine example of true polyphony. In the recitatives, on the other hand, Invernizzi’s singing is in an intimate relationship with the basso continuo players, evoking a nearly private atmosphere, and the listener can feel as though being the only addressee of this music.
It comes a bit as a surprise that this CD, full of secular music about mythology and love, was recorded in a church. Although the music was written for a cardinal, its performance in a sacred building would probably have been a scandal in the eighteenth century.
The CD comes in a hard paper box the design of which is rather neutral and does not give much away in regard to the music. The booklet is well prepared, although it has to be said a picture of Pamphili could certainly have been expected and would have made an interesting addition. Ellen T. Harris’s informative notes are given in English with French, German, and Spanish translations; the same applies to the included full texts of the cantatas for which the original Italian is also of course given.
One should note this CD is just the first in a series that aims to record all of Handel’s cantatas with instrumental accompaniment. Indeed, a second volume with cantatas for the Marchese Ruspoli was released in 2007. It is to be hoped that this series will be continued and accomplish its aim.