issued as Hyperion CDA66440, this remains a thoroughly enjoyable – and
quite substantial – representation of one of the areas of
Handel’s work which has received relatively little attention.
Of the ten duets which Handel wrote for soprano and alto,
nine are here recorded – it is a shame that we don’t have ‘Beato
in ver’ to complete the set.
texts of these duets are generally pretty slight – amorous,
vaguely pastoral and soaked in the routine poetic clichés
of the day – and only a couple can be attributed to specific
poets. Handel’s response, however, is far more than merely
routine. Melodically inventive, often quite adventurous in
terms both of harmony and rhythm, this is sophisticated,
if not especially profound, music. There appears to be very
little, stylistically speaking, that distinguishes the works
from the end of the first decade of the Eighteenth Century
from those written in the 1740s.
is much to relish in piece after piece. The gorgeously anguished
harmonic suspensions in the opening movement of ‘Langue,
geme, sospira e si lagna’, for example; or the dancing rhythms
of the first part of ‘Tanti strali al sen mi scocchi’. ‘Conservate,
raddoppiate’ is a miniature masterpiece of fluid elegance
and the closing movement of ‘Tanti strali’ is a dazzling
fugue. Those familiar with Handel’s working methods, will
not be surprised to learn that these duets contain a good
deal of music which the great man recycled elsewhere – to
cite only a few examples, that fugue from ‘Tanti strali’ reappears
in Solomon (“Take him all”); the melody which opens ‘A
mirarvi io son intento’ was reused in the Utrecht Jubilate
(“Be ye sure that the Lord is God”) before turning up again
in the Chandos Jubilate; materials from the final movement
of ‘Sono liete, fortunate’ resurfaced in the overture to Judas
Fisher and James Bowman give entirely sympathetic performances,
engaged and intelligent, their voices often beautifully interwoven
above the continuo work of Coe, Miller and King, which is
generally sparkling, generally well judged and frequently
poignantly expressive in the slower movements. Bowman was
in particularly good voice at this time, especially at the
higher end of his register.
for performance at private musical evenings, these pieces
have the expressiveness of some of Handel’s best operatic
writing combined with an intimacy of scale owed to the environments
and occasions for which they were written. The combination
makes for some exquisite music of high cultivation. Only
the final item in the programme, ‘Fronda leggiera e mobile’ doesn’t
quite come off, some of the phrasing being rather too fragmentary,
the lines not allowed to flow in quite the way that one might
wish. But this is a small reservation.
performances of some sophisticated morceaux by Handel, making
for an hour of quite delightful listening.