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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Opera Arias
Christophe Dumaux (countertenor)
FestspielOrchester Göttingen/Laurence Cummings
rec. live, 24 May 2019, St. Jacobi-Kirche, Göttingen, Germany ACCENT ACC26413 [68.58]
In England Handel is probably best known for his oratorios and orchestral works but primarily, he was really an opera composer. His career revolved around opera houses until his mid-fifties. He had a leading role in the management of London’s repertoire opera companies and between 1710 and 1740 he composed operas at a very fast rate, on average more than one major work a year. Handel worked within the genre of opera seria but his outstanding composition skills in the control of harmony and expansion of melody took the operatic baroque aria to new heights thus marking the peak of the genre itself. It is therefore apt that the present disc is a sort of survey of Handel’s operatic arias, ranging from 1711 through to 1735.
French countertenor Christophe Dumaux is a well-known interpreter of Handel’s operatic pieces and has sung in many prestigious operas and festivals, as for example the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Paris Opera, Wiener Staatsoper, Staatsoper Berlin, La Scala and The Proms. He studied mostly at the Paris Conservatoire and made his professional debut at the age of 22 in Handel’s Rinaldo at the Festival de Radio France. I must say that although I had heard of him and read the odd review, I had never listened to Dumaux’s singing and had no idea how his voice would sound. I am not a big fan of Handel because I sometimes become a little bored with da capo arias, of which there are many in his works, though I like some of his operas.
For the above reasons I approached the present recording with a good deal of scepticism, however, I must say that it was a pleasant surprise and an engaging experience. Dumaux has a voice with a wide range, solid coloratura and he seems to deliver most of the arias with little effort. His tone is warm and expressive most of the time. His crescendos are impressive; he has an elegant legato line and powerful, clear high notes. His enunciation is mostly excellent although there are a couple of moments (few and far between) where in the lower range the voice sounds slightly nasal almost as if he had a cold but in the next moment is no longer present. He has a robust technique and sounds convincing both musically and dramatically speaking. Dumaux’s interpretation is to my mind faithful to what Handel demanded of his singers. His voice, especially in its highest range, can at times be beautiful and sound almost as pure as that of a boy treble. His performance of Dove sei, amato bene? from Rodelinda, Sorge nel petto from Rinaldo or Aure, deh, per pietŕ from Giulio Cesare is truly captivating, with an exquisite legato and especially Cesar’s aria also moving or better poignant. His delivery of Giŕ l’ebro mio ciglio from Orlando is excruciatingly lovely and touches the heart. All of this contrasts very effectively with Dover, giustizia, amor from Ariodante or Fammi combattere from Orlando where his rendition bursts with energy and power, demonstrating also great flexibility.
Handel’s repertoire present in this disc is best known to me sung by no less than extraordinary American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and I must say that although I prefer her voice and interpretations, Dumaux fairs extremely well and doesn’t fade in comparison. I thought he is one of the best, most exciting and engaging countertenor voices I’ve heard recently and arguably on a par with David Daniels or Philippe Jaroussky. He lacks the delicate, subtle beauty and elegance of an Andreas Scholl but he is skilful and his voice attractive, full of sparkle and fireworks when the music so requires.
Half-way through the disc we have a pause from the arias and the excellent FestspielOrchester Göttingen, led by Britain’s Laurence Cummings, perform Handel’s Concerto Grosso no. 8 in C minor, HWV 325, rather brilliantly. The orchestra, formed in 2006, is famous for bringing together specialists in historical performance practice from other prestigious ensembles such as Les Arts Florissants, die Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Concerto Köln or Il Complesso Barocco to name a few. The orchestra brings out an intense, unforced sound. It is a delight to hear it on its own without the voice even if only for one piece. Conductor Laurence Cummings is well-known in Britain for his spirited and accomplished historical performances. He is an expert in Handel and has been Musical Director of the London Handel Festival since 1999, Artistic Director of the Göttingen International Handel Festival since 2012 and lately also acts as Music Director for the Orquestra Baroca Casa da Música in Porto, Portugal. He extracts a rich palette of colours from the musicians of the FestspielOrchester Göttingen while remaining true to Handel’s score and cleverly supporting and highlighting Dumaux’s voice.
The accompanying booklet also makes for very interesting reading. It contains an informative essay on Handel’s opera arias, written by Bennet Eicke (a young, outstanding pianist who also reads musicology and philosophy at the Georg August University in Göttingen) in English, French and German. The texts to all arias are also provided in the original Italian with English, French and German translations. Additionally, though only in German and English, there are biographies of Christophe Dumaux and Laurence Cummings, as well as a brief history of the FestspielOrchester Göttingen.
Dumaux’s voice is engaging and the orchestra sound, as led by Cummings, rather attractive. To summarise this was to me a surprisingly good recording, admirable at times and one I’ll be happy to return to often.
Margarida writes more than just reviews, check it online at Flowingprose.com
Contents Ariodante (1735) Dover, giustizia, amor [3.37] Spero per voi [4.35]
Rodelinda (1725) Pompe vane di morte...Dove sei, amato bene? [7.29]
Rinaldo (1711) Sorge nel petto [5.03] Cor ingrato, ti rammembri [3.57]