Thursday, 3 April 2014

Pure Handel - European Union Baroque Orchestra

Pure Handel ERP 6212
Pure Handel: European Union Baroque Orchestra, Lars Ulrik Mortensen, Maria Keohane: Estonian Record Productions ERP 6212
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 30 2014
Star rating: 5.0

EUBO in fine from in Handel cantatas, concerto grosso and Water Music

This disc showcases the European Union Baroque Orchestra under their music director Lars Ulrik Mortensen in a programme of Handel, with the Overture from Admeto HWV 22Water Music Suite no. 1in F major HWV 348, and Concerto Grosso in F major Op 6 No 2 HWV 320. They are joined by soprano Maria Keohane for the cantatas Ero e Leandro HWV 150, and  Ah! Che troppo ineguali HWV 230, plus the aria Tu del Ciel ministro eletto from Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno HWV 46a The disc is on the Estonian Record Productions label (ERP)

The European Union Baroque Orchestra is in fact a training orchestra, and it re-forms each year with a different personnel. Young professionals come from all over the EU to work together for a six month season with Music Director Lars Ulrik Mortensen and distinguished guest conductors. Mortensen is also artistic director of Concerto Copenhagen, with whom he has produced a number of opera productions at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen.


The disc opens with the overture to Handel's Admeto, his 1727 opera based on the Alceste story. Mortensen added the overture to the disc because Handel's cantata Ero e Leandro does not have an overture. The overture is played in brisk, crisp style; there is a lovely stylish confidence to the playing and piece is very effective.

Handel cantata Ero e Leandro tells the story of Hero and Leander; Leander swimming the Hellespont every day to see his beloved Hero who has been imprisoned by Diana. The work dates from 1707, Handel's early Italian years when he wrote a considerable number of cantatas for performance in his patrons' houses. The cantata is unusual in that it finishes with a recitative, reflection perhaps of the feeling of incompleteness arising from Leander's death drowning in the Hellespont. The CD booklet points out that Handel at 22 was the same age as the young performers in the European Baroque Orchestra.

The first aria sees Maria Keohane's fluid and fluent soprano joined by an obbligato violin. She has a lovely firm lyric voice and produces some nice even and expressive passagework. For the aria's B section, the forces are reduced down to just voice, violin and continuo to highly effective purpose and Mortensen gets a lovely explosion when the tutti returns for the da capo. The second aria is more robustly vivid, with voice and strings united with great attention to projection of emotion in the music.The final aria starts with a poignant introduction on the violins, which is matched by Keohane when she comes in. This aria is slower, with the performers being highly expressive and Keohane singing with a finely plangent line.   The recitatives are expressive, combining musicality and drama; all in all, a very stylish and involving performance of the cantata.

The orchestra follows this with Handel's first Water Music Suite, Handel's concert suite made from the music written for King George I's water party in 1717. In the CD booklet, Mortensen talks about trying to recreate the feeling of the music's remarkable newness to its first audience, and the performance does have a remarkable new minted feel; perhaps helped by the fact that the music itself has not become routine to the young performers.

The opening of Ouverture sets out the parameters, highly stylish, great oboes in a good balance with the strings and a nice straight tone from everyone with no bulges, the passagework in the faster sections is very clear. It is very toe tapping and vivid without being overdone or over-cooked. The different movements showcase the various instruments so we get some lovely oboe playing, fine horns and the warm chestnut tones of the combined woodwind in the Andante. Mortensen has a clear feel for the varied textures and speeds of the work, along with the way they interact. This is a vividly varied performance, and one to which I would want to come back to again and again.

Then something more unusual, Handel's cantata Ah! Che troppo ineguali. It is simply a recitative and aria, written also for Italy in 1707/8, but it sets a Marian hymn full of Catholic devotion. Here Keohane is wonderfully straight-toned, singing expressively with flexibility and plangency. The result, supported by the European Baroque Orchestra, is very powerful.

Next comes the second of Handel's Opus 6 Concerto Grossi, works written explicitly with care (rather than hastily assembled by the publisher like the Opus 3 set). They make reference to Corelli's famous set of concerti grossi, but the sound world is Handel's own. The playing from the strings is rich toned and there is a great interplay between the solo group and the ripieno group. The faster movements are crisply incisive, but not too driven, with a lovely sense of balance. The disc finishes with an encore, the aria Tu del Ciel ministro eletto, a lovely treat from Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, one of Handel's oratorios written whilst he was in Italy.

The disc showcases three different seasons of the orchestra. The overture, cantata Ero e Leandro and aria from Il trionfo del Temp e del Disinganno were recorded in 2010, the Water Music was recorded in 2008 and the cantata Ah! Che troppo ineguali and Concerto Grosso in F Major were recorded in 2011. The recordings use a mixture of live recording and studio.

This is a highly recommendable disc, the performances are vivid and involving without being too driven or over stylised. The music making captures the performers real enjoyment in this repertoire. I have no idea how much of the disc uses the live recordings, but it certainly feels like a live disc. Definitely a disc to search out.

The disc is available from the EUBO's website.

George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Overture from Admeto HWV 22 (1727)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Cantata Ero e Leandro HWV 150  (1707)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Water Music Suite No. 1 in F major HWV 348  (1777)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Cantata Ah! Che troppo ineguali  HWV 230  (1727)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Concerto Grosso in F marjor Op 6 No 2 HWV 329  (1739)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Tu del Ciel ministro eletto from Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno HWV 46a  (1707)
Maria Keohane (soprano)
European Union Baroque Orchestra
Lars Ulrik Mortensen (director, harpsichord)
Recorded 2008, 2010, 2011 (studio recordings and live concerts)
Estonian Record Productions ERP 6212 1CD [79.00]

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