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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Opera Seria
Scipione, HWV 20: Scoglio d'immota fronte (1726) [5:00]
Orlando, HWV 31: Verdi piante, erbette liete (1733) [6:20]
Giulio Cesare, HWV 17 (1724): Che sento? oh Dio! [1:07]; Se pietà di me non senti [7:43]
Partenope, HWV 27: L'amor ed il destin (1730) [3:00]
Amadigi di Gaula, HWV 11: Ah! Spietato (1715) [5:25]
Alessandro, HWV 21: Brilla nell' alma un non inteso ancor (1726) [5:20]
Rodelinda, HWV 19: Ombre, piante, urne funeste (1725) [5:46]
Faramondo, HWV 39: Combattuta da due venti (1737-38) [5:55]
Tamerlano, HWV 18: Cor di padre, e cor d'amante (1724) [8:17]. 
Deidamia, HWV 42: M’ai resa infelice (1741) [3:52]
Arianna in Creta, HWV 32: Son qual stanco (1721-34) [9:25]
Sandrine Piau (soprano)
Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset
rec. February 2004, Poissy Theater, France 
Texts and translations included
NAÏVE NC40026 [67:10]

Recorded nearly a decade ago, this is a reissue from Naïve and forms one of sixteen recordings that ‘have become benchmarks that have stood the test of time’ and deemed worthy of commemoration in this way. There is a fold-out small poster-sized sheet containing the texts and translations, and it also includes a small glossary which includes definitions of ‘Aria di tomba’, but also ‘vibrato’ and ‘aria’. Thus, one might be alerted, the constituency for this re-release is potentially wider than one might otherwise suspect.
 
There’s no question of its quality. Sandrine Piau and Les Talens Lyriques, directed by Christophe Rousset, strike collective sparks throughout the recital. Though her face is no longer on the booklet cover - it’s been replaced by a segmented fruit (lovely) - the French soprano is at the heart of a everything that is stylish and commanding here. Her accomplished technique, and the clarity of her vocal production, is audible from the off in the aria from Scipione and she equally captures the expressive potential of the slower aria from Orlando, Verdi piante, in which the shaping of dynamics is outstanding without being in any way precious. These qualities - clarity, potent expressive responses, care of the music’s gradients - are augmented by a virtuoso technique always at the service of the scores. Another quality is her legato, which is supremely good in the Giulio Cesare aria, and yet another is resinous dramatic flair - lest one think this is missing - which she unleashes in the spitting Partenope aria, L'amor ed il destin.
 
Thus she encompasses all the moods and qualities required of these arias from introspective mulling to full-scale theatrical dynamism. All the while Rousset and his forces accompany with felicitous colour and rhythmic energy. Maybe, just occasionally, she can take things too far: I find the contrasting B section of Ah spietato from Amadigi just a touch too extreme in its vehemence and spitfire divisions. But set against that one should point to the grave lament, Ombre piante with its highly distinctive and moving obbligato wind voicings, both commenting on, and amplifying the central character’s loss. Above all Piau is a resourceful, characterful artist, one whose purity of diction barely conceals her formidable dramatic stance. The showpiece M’ai resa infelice from the little-known Deidamia offers soprano and band great opportunities for extrovert communication, not least in Piau’s coruscatingly accurate runs in the B section.
 
This recital certainly enshrines passion and lyrical elegance: the florid and the sensitive. If you missed it first time around, then you’ll want to acquire it now. It still stands as a first-rate contribution to the Handel discography.
 
Jonathan Woolf