Friday 29 June 2018

Handel's finest arias for base voice - Christopher Purves, Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo

Christopher Purves, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen - Handel's finest arias for base voice II - Hyperion
Handel arias from Siroe, Esther, Athalia, Belshazzar, Tolomeo, Joshua, Rinaldo; Christopher Purves, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen; Hyperion
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 20 June 2018 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★)
Christopher Purves and Arcangelo in a vivid follow-up to their disc of Handel arias

The baritone Christopher Purves has returned to Handel's music for a second disc of arias with Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo on Hyperion Records. For the new disc we get an eclectic mix of opera and oratorio arias from Siroe, Esther, Athalia, Belshazzar, Tolomeo, Joshua, and Rinaldo plus the cantata Nell'africane selve and an aria from the pasticcio Catone which is actually by Porpora.

This disc is a follow up to Purves and Arcangelo's 2013 disc Handel's finest arias for base voice [see my review], we also caught them performing repertoire from both discs at the Barbican [see my review].

Handel wrote for particular singers and where he had a talented bass the result could often be a striking aria. So on this disc we encounter the unknown bass soloist, with a range from bottom C sharp to top A, for whom Handel wrote the cantata Nell'africane selve in Naples in 1708, and the bass Carlo Maria Broschi who featured in Handel's opera seasons in the 1720s and who specialised in tyrants so Handel wrote him such roles in Siroe and Tolomeo (1728). In the the 1730s Handel's line-up featured Antonio Montagnana, another bass with a wide range (for whom Handel would write the role of Zoroastro in Orlando) and who sang in the pasticcio Catone. In Handel's later oratorio period his bass soloists was often Henry Theodore Reinhold for whom Handel wrote roles in Belshazzar and Joshua (Reinhold also achieved success in the title role of Lampe's comedy The Dragon of Wantley).

Christopher Purves brings a strong dramatic sense to the music and a willingness to use a wide range of colours in his voice. This means that in the opening aria, 'Gelido in ogni vena' from Siroe the powerful and concentrated performance is complemented by the colours in his voice, whilst Gobrias' 'Opprest with never-ceasing grief' from Belshazzar is sung in a very effective veiled tone and the villainous Argante's 'Vieni o cara' from Rinaldo is sung in gently hushed tones supported by some lovely string textures.

But all is not hushed and veiled, Abner's 'When storms the proud' from Athalia is full of engaging swagger whilst 'Tu di pieta mi spogli' from Siroe is sung with a wonderfully vibrant full tone. Words count for a lot too, both English and Italian, with individual words being coloured and the music generally bouncing off the text in a highly expressive and vibrant manner.

Technically there is much to appreciate, not just the impressive control that Purves displays in the passagework but the moments of fine legato and the nice ease at the top. The challenges of the cantata Nell'africane selve with its extremes of range, are brilliantly done.

For all the vibrancy and vivid swagger of some of the pieces on the disc, we end in a surprisingly intimate manner with a gentle account of Caleb's 'Shall I in Mamre's fertile plain' from Joshua, beautifully supported by rich timbres in the orchestra. Porpora's aria 'E ver che all'amo intorno' has a lively bassoon part contributing to the rather charming music, and it provides a sample of how Handel's pasticcios would mix music of different composers.

Throughout Jonathan Cohen and the orchestra provide Christopher Purves with superb support, matching him for vibrancy and vividness of performance and a willingness to colour individual lines and notes. Cohen and Arcangelo also perform Handel's Concerto grosso in F major Op.3 No.4, in a performance which contrasts the graceful with the more perky moments.

Christopher Purves brings a very personal sense of communication to these arias, bringing the drama alive and proving a fine communicator. Certainly anyone who enjoyed Purves, Arcangelo and Cohen's 2013 disc will want this follow-up.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) - arias from Siroe, Esther, Athalia, Belshazzar, Tolomeo, Joshua, Rinaldo
George Frideric Handel - Nell'africane selve HWV136a
George Frideric Handel - Concerto Grosso in F major, Op.3 No.4 HWV315
Nicola Porpora - 'E ver che all'amo intorno' from the pasticcio Catone HWV A7
Christopher Purves (baritone)
Jonathan Cohen (conductor)
Recorded at the church of St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, 26-28 Feburary 2016, 6 September 2017
HYPERION CDA68152 1CD [77.11]
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Story-telling in America: Verdi's Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Each a world unto itself: Arvo Pärt The Symphonies (★★★★) - CD review
  • Intimate, candid and completely fascinating: The Tchaikovsky Papers - unlocking the family archive (★★★★) - book review
  • Notable debuts & a veteran director: Die Entführung aus dem Serail from the Grange Festival - opera review
  • Vivid drama: Handel's Agrippina at The Grange Festival  (★★★★★) - opera review
  • Rip-roaring fun: Elena Langer's Rhondda Rips It Up! (★★★★) - music theatre review
  • Debut: Soprano Chen Reiss sings her first staged Zerlina for her Covent Garden debut  - interview
  • Powerfully uplifting: Bach's Mass in B minor from the Dunedin Consort (★★★★★) - concert review
  • Brilliant ensemble: Cole Porter's Kiss me Kate from Opera North (★★★★½) - music theatre review
  • ‘A well-regulated church music’ - John Eliot Gardiner at the Bach Weekend at the Barbican  (★★★★) - concert review
  • Home

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