Utterly charming, transcending the obvious limitations of the text.
Andrew McGregor 2010-02-16
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Advice Händel fully intended to follow when he arrived in the city in 1707, having just turned 22, to study Italian ways, assimilate Italian music, and find Italian sponsors, patrons and opportunities.
His first Roman commissions were for the church, so Lutheran Händel worked with Catholic texts. There was a papal ban on opera, so Händel turned his hand to oratorio – first Il Trionfo…, then La Resurrezione – by which time he’d joined the household of Marquis Francesco Maria Ruspoli, providing chamber cantatas and more elaborate works for special occasions.
These are the often little-known works Fabio Bonizzoni and La Risonanza have been bringing to us in their series for Glossa, and in this sixth volume they’ve brought new life to a hidden treasure: O! Come chiare e belle, although its formal title of Olinto pastore arcade alla Gloria del Tebro hints at the awkwardness of the commission. It was written to celebrate Ruspoli’s funding of a new papal infantry troop, and it’s filled with allegorical references to Pope Clement XI. Olinto is the humble shepherd, talking to the River Tiber about the restoration of the glory of ancient Rome, aided and abetted by Glory herself.
It’s to Händel’s immense credit that, from the opening sinfonia, Olinto is utterly charming, transcending the obvious limitations of the text. He knew he’d done well; a couple of items were recycled in his opera Alcina (Glory’s ‘Tornami a vagheggiar’). All three singers are seductive, especially Roberta Invernizzi, effortlessly impressive no matter what’s thrown at her – and it’s obvious Ruspoli must have had some fine singers to hand. The more laidback mezzo of Yetzabel Arias Fernandez is beautifully effective as the suicidal lover at the end of the cantata Alpestre monte, and she’s joined by the rich contralto of Romina Basso for a lovers’ quarrel: Duello Amoroso. In all three works the instrumental playing and intimate, luminous recording, approaches perfection.
Outstanding Italian Händel, then, so much so that this writer is sad to hear that the series is almost at an end, with just one more volume to come. Here’s hoping they think again.