Wednesday 7 January 2015

Handel arias from Mark Padmore

Handel arias from Alceste, Il Trionfo, Semele, Samson, Tamerlano, Rodelinda, Esther, Jephtha, L'Allegro; Mark Padmore, The English Concert, Andrew Manze; Harmonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 31 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Re-issue of a fine collection of Handel's tenor arias, superbly and communicatively sung

This disc is a welcome re-issue of Mark Padmore's recital of Handel arias on Harmonia Mundi, with Andrew Manze and the English Concert. The disc ranges from Handel's early Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno to his final oratorio Jephtha, along the way we take in arias from Alceste, Semele, Tamerlano, Samson,  Rodelinda, Esther and L'Allegro, il Penseroso et il Moderato.

Though the disc encompasses works from 1707 (Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno) to 1752 (Jephtha) the music on the disc concentrates on just two performers; though Handel wrote for a wide variety of superb musicians, just two tenors stand out. The Italian tenor Francesco Borosini for whom Handel wrote the role of Bajazet in Tamerlano and the role of Grimoaldo in Rodelinda. (Handel also re-wrote the role of Sesto in Giulio Cesare for Borosini, in an underrated version of the opera). And the English tenor John Beard who performed in a wide range of Handel's works ranging from the Italian operas through to the oratorios, with Handel writing the title role in Samson and Jephtha for Beard. The range of Beard's roles is wide, from the lyric parts such as L'Allegro through Messiah to Samson and Jephtha.

Beard clearly had a virile and robust voice, which was capable of some subtlety. And if you combined his arias with the roles written for the baritonally inclined Borosini and all the other tenors for whom Handel wrote, then to perform these arias you need a voice which combines flexibility and power. Mark Padmore has performed an impressive range of Handel role, including notably he title role in Jephtha. On this disc, Padmore combines virtuosity with a sense of drama and communicativeness. There are passages which seem to be sung with a thread of tone which you wonder whether the performance would work in the theatre, but as a CD recital the results are highly involving.

The disc opens with Enjoy the sweet Elysian grove from Alceste, a play by Tobias Smollet to which Handel wrote the music; it never reached performance and Handel re-used the music for The Choice of Hercules. Padmore combines lyric beauty, with robustness and fluency in the passage-work. Where'er you walk from Semele is one of the roles written for Beard, and Padmore shapes the musical line beautifully. Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno  was written in 1707, whilst Handel was still in Italy. The aria starts with bravura drama in the accompagnato, till you realise that that is the aria.

Handel re-wrote Tamerlano when his tenor Francesco Borosini arrived in England. As Borosini was a gifted singing actor, Handel expanded the role of Bajazet (in fact the heroine's father) to create a highly dramatic role which included an on-stage death-scene. In Forte e lieto Bajazet iterates between love for his daughter and determination to proceed to his fate. Padmore captures this with his alternation between great lyric beauty with care for the vocal line, and resolute strength. Next Padmore sings Bajazet's death scene, a huge scene in which Padmore moves between cutting edge drama to tenderness and to aetherial tones, turning on the edge of a pin. He is joined in the recitative by a suitably supportive and vivid Lucy Crowe and Robin Blaze.

The title role in Samson was one of the most significant roles that Handel wrote for John Beard. Convention demanded that tenors were not leading men, they were generals, fathers and kings. But for Beard, Handel created Samson based on Milton's Samson Agonistes with Beard singing the leading role. Total eclipse is Samson's stunning aria lamenting his blindness. It requires a degree of dramatic power in the singer. Padmore gives us vivid drama, straight and direct, resulting in something rather moving and highly communicative, though the role could take a degree more robustness in vocal tone. Your charms to ruin led the way is Samson's response to his former wife Dalila. Padmore spits out the words in the recitative, and then the aria combines a triple time swing with robust vocals. The way Padmore projects the words and his strength of tone, give the aria a nice sense of irony. Finally we hear Thus when the sun from's watr'y bed which Samson sings just before his final feat. The recitative combines vivid words with superb string cascades, then in the aria Padmore shows fine control and care, singing with hushed tones.

Next we return to Borosini, with the role of Grimoaldo in Rodelinda, and Padmore gives us the accompagnato Fatto inferno and the aria Pastorello d'un povero armento in which the usurper Grimoaldo envies the life of a simple shepherd, rather than his present state wracked with guilt. The accompagnato has a dramatic and vivid accompaniment, and alternates extremes of emotion. Padmore's tones are so hushed at times that you wonder whether this approach would work in the theatre, but it is certainly superb on disc. The following aria is lilting and melancholy and profoundly beautiful; a fine example of Handel's skill at creating complex villains.

Tune your harps comes from Handel's early oratorio Esther, written as a one-of for the Duke of Chandos. The work's revival would lead to Handel exploring the oratorio genre further. The aria has a lovely plucked string accompaniment evoking harps with a lovely oboe solo from Katharina Spreckelsen.

Padmore sings two items from Handel's final oratorio Jephtha. First His mighty arm from Act two, with a confident recitative leading to an aria sung with wonderful swagger. Though Padmore is suitably bravura in the passage-work, I did wonder whether he rather chugged somewhat. Waft her, angels has a beautiful shape to the line and a wonderfully intimate feel, with the hushed Da Capo being really magical.

Finally, Padmore is joined by Lucy Crowe once more for the glorious duet As steals the morn, with the two sing perfectly.

The disc comes with a fine article by David Vickers in the Cd booklet, but there are no texts. The Cd is currently packaged with Harmonia Mundi's complete 2015 Cd catalogue to tempt you further

If you do not have this disc already, then I cannot recommend it highly enough. Padmore is finely and imaginatively supported by Andrew Manze and The English Concert to make a superbly thought out selection of tenor arias, all sung with Padmore's familiar combination of intelligence, communicativeness and beauty of tone.

George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Enjoy the sweet Elysian grove (Alceste)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Where'er you walk (Semele)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Urne voi (Il Trionfo del Temp e del Disinganno)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Forte e lieto (Tamerlano)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Death scene (Tamerlano)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Total eclipse (Samson)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Your charms to ruin let the way (Samson)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Thus when the sun from's wat'ry bed (Samson)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Pastorello d'un povero armento (Rodelinda)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Tune your harps (Esther)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - His mighty arm (Jephtha)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Waft her, angels (Jephtha)
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - As steals the morn (L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato)
Mark Padmore (tenor)
Lucy Crowe (soprano)
Robin Blaze (counter-tenor)
The English Concert
Andrew Manze
Recorded October 2006 at St Jude's on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London
HARMONIA MUNDI HMX 2907422 1CD [77.11]

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