Sunday 9 November 2014

A Royal Trio - Handel, Bononcini, Ariosti

A Royal Trio - Lawrence Zazzo, La Nuova Musica, David Bates
A Royal Trio - Handel, Bononcini, Ariosti; Lawrence Zazzo, La Nuova Musica, David Bates; Harmonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 27 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Fine performances and imaginative repertoire from 1720's London

A Royal Trio from Lawrence Zazzo, La Nuova Musica and David Bates on Harmonia Mundi explores the musical world of London in the 1720's surrounding the Royal Academy of Music. Handel was the principal composer but there was Giovanni Bononcini and Attilio Ariosi too, all three of whom wrote operas for performance in London. Excerpts from Ariosti's Vespasiano, Il naufragio vicino and Coriolano, Bononcini's Crispo, Griselda and Muzio Scevola, plus Handel's Flavio, Admeto, Giulio Cesare, and Ottone.

The aristocrats who had formed the Royal Academy of Music in 1719 were concerned to have the ultimate possible opera company. They had commissioned Handel to recruit singers, he was their 'Master of the Orchester' but the operas were written both by Handel and by Giovanni Bononcini. Bononcini's music already popular in London, and his operas Crispo and Griselda were much performed in the 1720/21 season. From 1723 Bononcini and Handel were joined by Attilio Ariosi (1666 - 1729). It didn't last. By 1724 Bononcini's reputation had waned and he withdrew. This was the glory period, with the Academy having two major composers, two female stars (Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni) and the castrato Sensesino. But without a full Royal subsidy, the Academy was set up as a joint stock company and eventually the money ran out.

Whilst Handel's manuscripts are all neatly available in libraries, those of Ariosti and Bononcini are all scattered and not all survive. In his note in the CD booklet, Lawrence Zazzo describes the work needed to recover the material for the disc. The results provide us with a fascinating insight into the musical world of the London opera house in the 1720's and help to provide a more balanced view of Handel's work.

The disc opens with a nicely crisp account of the overture to Ariosti's Vespasiano (1724), which tempts us into wanting to listen to more. Rompo i lacci, Guido's aria from Handel's Flavio (1723) receives a terrific, bravura performance from Zazzo. He is on strong form, with nicely warm tones and lovely even, rich timbre.  Crispo's aria from Cosi stanco Pellegrino from Bononcini's Crispo (1723) is an elegantly affecting piece with a lovely cello solo (Bononcini was also a cellist).

The Sinfonia from Handel's Admeto (1727) is lively triple time piece with wonderful horns. The horn features in the next aria, Giulio Cesare's Va tacito from Handel's Giulio Cesare (1724) with a superb horn solo from Alec Frank-Gemmill and Zazzo gives a performance which is both bravura and subtle. Io son tradito and Tanti affani are Ottone's recitative and aria, from act three of Handel's Ottone (1723). The recitative is a fabulously dramatic accompanied one, leading to the lyrically poignant aria. Zazzo provides a nicely shapely phrase with a firm, focussed tone accompanied by a lovely meandering violin.

We next meet one of the heroines, Zazzo sings Griselda's aria Per la gloria d'adorarvi from Bononcini's Griselda (1722). Whilst not elaborate, this is an attractively melodic piece, with a meadering violin.

Frema l'onda from Ariosti's Il naufragio vicino (1724) is that good old standby, a simile aria but it is attractive and dramatic, with interesting leaps in the vocal line. From Ariosti's Coriolano (1723), comes Corliano's recitative and aria, Spiritate, o iniqui marmi and Voi d'un Figlio tanto misero. The recitative starts as a stylish accompagnato with a warm string accompanied, which develops into something dramatic before the rather lovely aria with its quirky melody line. There is vivid drama and some bravura moments in the B section and Zazzo gives us some imaginatively expressive ornaments in the da capo.

We return to Bononcini's Crispo for Crispo's Torrente che scende with its swaggering horns, and bravura vocal line which stays this side of showy. 

The stylishly grand Introduzione (Ballo di Larve) from Handel's Admeto leads to Admeto's recitative Orride larve and aria Chiuderevi miei lumi from the same opera. The long recitative is a vividly dramatic accompagnato which leads into the gentle and rather moving aria.

Muzio Scevola (1721) was a joint effort with different acts by Handel, Bononcini and the theatre's cellist Filippo Amadei. Tigre piagata from Bononcini's Act II. It is a crisp and perky piece with vivid passagework.

They busily scurrying Sinfonia from Handel's Admeto leads into Bertarido's Vivi, tiranno from Handel's Rodelinda (1725). A bravura piece from the end of the opera, Zazzo gives a nice swagger to it with some vivid drama and fabulous ornaments.

Aria selection discs from baroque opera can sometimes end up being a sequence of showy bravura arias. Lawrence Zazzo and David Bates have some up with something a little more imaginative, and give us a wide selection of styles from the simply elegant to the bravura. Zazzo is on peak form and combines the requiste virtuoso fireworks with an elegant sense of line (very necessary in the Bononcini), and all with a lovely warm tone. He is well supported by David Bates and La Nuova Musica, who give stylish support and provide a lovely involving performance. This is certainly one of those discs which I will come back to.

A Royal Trio - Arias and scenes
Attilio Ariosti (1666 - 1729) - Overture from Vespasiano (1724)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Rompo i lacci from Flavio (1723)
Giovanni Bononcini (1670 - 1747) - Cosi stanco Pellegrino from Crispo (1723)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Sinfonia from Admeto (1727)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Va tacito from Giulio Cesare (1724)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Io son tradito and Tanti affanii from Ottone (1723)
Giovanni Bononcini (1670 - 1747) - Per la gloria d'adorarvi from Griselda (1722)
Attilio Ariosti (1666 - 1729) - Frema l'onda from Il naufragio vicino (1724)
Attilio Ariosti (1666 - 1729) - Spiritate, o iniqui marmi and Chiudetevi miei lumi from Coriolano (1723)
Giovanni Bononcini (1670 - 1747) - Torrente che scende from Crispo
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Introduzione (Ballo di Larve) and Orride larve from Admeto
 Giovanni Bononcini (1670 - 1747) - Tigre piagata from Muzio Scevola (1721)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Sinfonia from Handel's Admeto
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Vivi, tiranno from Rodelinda (1725)
Lawrence Zazzo (countertenor)
La Nuova Musica
David Bates (director)
Recorded in January 2014, St John's Smith Square, London
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU 807590 1CD [78.05]
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