Thursday 25 July 2019

Mio caro Händel: a very personal project from soprano Simone Kermes on Sony Classical

Simone Kermes - Mio caro Händel - Sony Classical
Mio caro Händel; Simone Kermes, Amici Veneziani; Sony Classical
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 July 2019 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A very personal journey though Handel's music from soprano Simone Kermes

On this very personal project, soprano Simone Kermes sings a selection arias from Handel's operas and oratorio for a disc from Sony Classical, accompanied by Amici Veneziani, an ensemble Kermes founded in 2017 and led by concertmaster Boris Begelman. We get arias from the operas Rinaldo, Giulio Cesare, Amadigi di Gaula, Serse, Teseo, Rodelinda, Deidamia, and Lotario, from the oratorios Le Resurrezione, Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno, Athalia, Saul and The Triumph of Time and Truth, and one of the Nine German Arias.

The CD booklet starts with a long and personal note from Kermes about her admiration and love for Handel's music and how it is intertwined with hers. This can seem a fascinating personal insight or gushingly over the top depending on your point of view, but there is no background to the works themselves, we are assumed to know them and to appreciate Kermes' performances.

Simone Kermes is a very distinctive singer with a very unmistakeable approach to Baroque music, technically superb in fast music she brings amazing fire and vividness to it. Yet in slower pieces she favours a tone which is almost bleached, with performances that are extremely intimate.

Listen to the first item on the disc, Armida's 'Furie terribili!' from Rinaldo and Kermes is everything you want her to be and more, this is an Armida with pin sharp coloratura combined with a vibrancy and vividness of utterance which it is clear would make a superb theatrical performance. Yet in the second item, Cleopatra's 'Piangero la sorte mia', Kermes takes an approach so intimate that it sounds created for the recording studio rather than the stage, and at times she comes perilously close to crooning.

The disc largely alternates slow and fast numbers, whilst bearing in mind that a slow aria might have a fast middle section, and fast arias often have contrasting slow sections. The faster numbers on this disc are terrific, we get superbly bravura arias from Handel's early Italian oratorios La Resurrezione, complete with trumpets, and Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno, plus a dramatic moment from Teseo, 'Moriro, ma vendicata' and a terrifically perky simile aria from Lotario, 'Scherza in mar la navicella'. Similarly, 'My vengeance awakes me' from Athalia is finely done, and the fast speed suits Kermes' entirely adequate English.

Unfortunately, the slower moments on the disc simply highlight her very personal manner. She is nothing if not consistent and, in her way, entirely musical but if you find her intimate, bleached tone difficult in these arias then there is plenty on this disc that you will not like. The slow tempi and intimate approach in the English airs, 'Author of peace' from Saul and 'Guardian angels' from The Triumph of Time and Truth only serve to highlight the limitations of Kermes' English.

Throughout she is finely accompanied by Amici Veneziani, based on an ensemble of nine strings, harpsichord and theorbo (plus of course wind as necessary). The ensemble follows Kermes lead and complements her approach in all the arias.

This disc is Simone Kermes at the height of her powers. Lovers of the soprano's performances need have no qualms, here she presents a sequence of Handel's greatest music in performances which could not be other than by Kermes. Those less certain of her distinctive approach need to listen first. The repertoire is very much a selected highlights, but Kermes' choice ranges widely taking in lesser known works and not always choosing the most obvious numbers from well-known operas.

Mio caro Händel
George Frideric Handel (1685-1739) - 'Furie terribili' (Rinaldo)
George Frideric Handel - 'Piangero' (Giulio Cesare)
George Frideric Handel - 'Disserrateve, o porte d'Averno' (La resurrezione)
George Frideric Handel - 'Ah! spietato' (Amadigi di Gaula)
George Frideric Handel - 'Come nembo che fugge col vento' (Il trionfo del tempo de del disinganno)
George Frideric Handel - 'Ombra mai fu' (Serse)
George Frideric Handel - 'Moriro, ma vendicata' (Teseo)
George Frideric Handel - 'Se 'l mio dul non e si forte' (Rodelinda)
George Frideric Handel - 'My vengeance awakes me' (Athalia)
George Frideric Handel - 'Author of peace' (Saul)
George Frideric Handel - 'M'hai resa infelice' (Deidamia)
George Frideric Handel - 'Scherza in mar la navicella' (Lotario)
George Frideric Handel - 'Susse Stille, sanfte Quelle' (Nine German Arias)
George Frideric Handel - 'Guardian Angels' (The Triumph of Time and Truth)
George Frideric Handel - 'Lascia ch'io pianga' (Rinaldo)
Simone Kermes (soprano)
Amici Veneziani (concertmaster Boris Begelman)
Recorded Jesus-Christus Kirche, Berlin, 28 May - 1 June 2018

Available from Amazon.

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