Wednesday 2 February 2022

Enchantresses: Sandrine Piau is on vivid form in this recital of arias from Handel's operas from Rinaldo to Alcina

Enchantresses - arias from Handel's Lotario, Rinaldo, Giulio Cesare, Alcina, Amadigi di Gaula Lucrezia; Sandrine Piau; Les Paladins, Jerome Correas; Alpha Classics

- arias from Handel's Lotario, Rinaldo, Giulio Cesare, Alcina, Amadigi di Gaula Lucrezia; Sandrine Piau; Les Paladins, Jérôme Correas; Alpha Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 31 January 2022 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A selection of powerful often wounded women in Sandrine Piau's vivid and compelling Handel recital

Under the title Enchantresses, soprano Sandrine Piau's latest recital on Alpha Classics with Les Paladins, director Jérôme Correas, takes in arias from Handel's operas Lotario, Rinaldo, Giulio Cesare, Alcina, and Amadigi di Gaula plus the cantata Lucrezia, whilst the ensemble performs movements from concerto grossos.

Sandrine Piau became known originally for her portrayals of Handel's lighter voiced heroines, but her voice has developed in intensity and this new disc covers some far stronger characters, as she says in her introduction "Where once I portrayed light-hearted, pirouetting heroines, this new album offers a portrait of powerful, often wounded women". Some of the characters are literally enchantresses, Handel's sorceresses such as Alcina and Melissa, but with other heroines the enchantment is more metaphorical such as Cleopatra.

The recital is planned as that, rather than as an attempt at quasi-operatic excerpts. Cleopatra's arias from Giulio Cesare are split into two groups and the arias are punctuated by movements from Concerto Grossos Opus 6, and the overture to Amadigi.

We begin with Adelaide's aria 'Scherza in mar' from Lotario, a vivid simile aria about a little boat which receives a wonderfully urgent performance from Piau and draws rich, dark tones from her voice. Here she emphasises the drama of the piece, but when we move to the sirens aria from Rinaldo, Piau shows her chameleon qualities and gives us singing that is more simply beautiful, lighter in tone and, of course, seductive, yet still with fine attention to the words.

The first three arias all have an element of the sea about them, from Adelaide's simile of the little boat to the sirens trying to seduce Rinaldo and then another simile aria, this time Cleopatra's 'Da tempeste' from Giulio Cesare.  Piau sings the aria crisply and fast, full of verve and character but with a pause for emphasis which sounds almost wilful, and the ornaments in the Da Capo are positively exuberant.

After a performance of the Larghetto from the Concerto Grosso in A minor, Op.6 No.4 that at times seems positively romantic, though full of character, we hear a group of arias all from women who are undergoing intense suffering. First comes Cleopatra's recitative and aria, Piangero. Here,  Piau sings with finely even tone and her expressivity in the music makes it compelling, yet she gives real bite to the middle section as well. A further movement from the concerto gross, the Allegro, is richly textured but somewhat stately.

We next hear the aria 'Alla salma infedel' from Handel's cantata Lucrezia, where Piau clearly relishes the highly chromatic rather wandering vocal line, which at the opening is virtually unaccompanied, the aria forms quite a stark contrast to the richness of some of the other repertoire here and that is probably the point. Then comes Alcina with her aria 'Ah! mio cor'. This is powerful indeed, finely sung with a great intensity of line and a vividly articulated middle section. As with some of the other Da Capo arias, Piau's ornamentation veers towards the busy.

The overture to Amadigi leads to Melissa's aria from that opera, 'Destero dall'empia dite' with its brilliant writing for trumpet. Piau performs with great relish, spitting out the words and not only includes exuberant ornamentation but has a cadenza duet with one of the trumpet! 

The Largo e affetuoso movement from Concerto Grosso in G minor Op.6 No.6 slow and intense. Then comes another showpiece, Morgana's 'Tornami a vagheggiar' from Alcina, which is again brilliantly sung though the middle section seems to be at rather a slow tempo, and for the Da Capo she goes into full Joan Sutherland mode. We end in more sombre, but still powerful style with Almirena's 'Lascia io pianga' from Rinaldo sung with slow intensity.    

Throughout Jérôme Correas and Les Paladins contribute vividly stylish performances which complement Piau's performances finely. In the purely orchestral moments they are perhaps a bit too romantic for my taste, but in the context of this whole recital the results make a satisfying whole. Whether singing fast or slow there is a vividness, intensity and sense of character to Piau's singing on this disc. As Handel a performance you may not always like what she does, but there is a feeling of dramatic integrity, everything is there for a reason and the results are compelling.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) - arias from Lotario, Rinaldo, Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Lucrezia, Alcina, Amadigi di Gaula
Sandrine Piau (soprano)
Les Paladins
Jerome Correas (director)
Recorded at Theatre de Poissy, France, October 2020
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