This opera, Handel's penultimate, is relatively direct, both in its scoring–just strings and oboes–and its plot: Rosmene (soprano) must choose between Tirinto (mezzo-soprano), whom she loves and who loves her, and Imeneo (bass-baritone), who rescued her from pirates. Rosmene's confidante Clomiri (soprano) loves Imeneo, but it is unrequited; he loves Rosmene. Argenio (bass) is Rosmene's father; he wants her to marry Imeneo. This simplicity might lead you to believe that the opera is lightweight or emotionally void (it was referred to as an "operetta" at its premiere), but it's remarkable how involved the listener gets in the plot. Until the very last moment we don't know who Rosmene will select, and furthermore, when she feigns madness because she must choose between duty and love, she either feigns it so well that we believe her too, or like Hamlet, she actually is mad–at least for a little while. She opts for duty and picks Imeneo, explaining in a brief final aria that she's like a boat at the mercy of the wind that has gone from one shore to another: "Dear deserted shore," she sings to Tirinto, "if fate took it elsewhere, how did the unfortunate boat commit a sin?"
German poet and musician Oswald von Wolkenstein (circa 1377-1445) made sure his legacy was secure by having his works compiled into collections during his lifetime. While he was certainly the author of the texts, it is less clear how many of the pieces, which number over 130, include his original music, and how many had his texts applied to preexisting works. In any case, it's an intriguing and attractive body of work, and this collection of 18 of his pieces, plus three other works, makes a fine introduction to his legacy.
Mercury Classics/Deutsche Grammophon has released the debut album of Austrian clarinettist Andreas Ottensamer, the first ever solo clarinettist to sign an exclusive agreement with the Yellow Label. Portraits – The Clarinet Album features concertos by Copland, Spohr and Cimarosa, plus arrangements of short pieces. Andreas Ottensamer is accompanied on the recording by the Rotterdam Philharmonic under Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
“The Big Wig” is a masterpiece by the multi-talented vocal marvel Andreas Schaerer. This is a work which situates him quite clearly and definitively among the most important composers and interpreters of contemporary music of his generation.
While it isn't Handel's most obscure opera (hum a few bars from Catone, anyone?), Siroe, Re di Persia is definitely on the margins. It's hard to say why exactly, although the unflatteringly edited Metastasio libretto (by Nicola Haym) is surely part of the reason; the character and conflict development of the original are largely missing from the version Handel set. But the music is Handel at his best, and let's face it: from the perspective of a modern listener, plot is not the main draw of opera seria. With that in mind, Harmonia Mundi's complete recording, with Andreas Spering and the Cappella Coloniensis, is an excellent first step toward giving Siroe wider exposure. It's well played, thoughtfully conducted, and it features an excellent trio of leading ladies.
Certainly the somber beauty of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater for soprano, alto, and strings has a lot to do with its popularity. But it must be said that the story of the 26-year-old composer completing the work on his deathbed has always been too romantic for the public–or the music business–to resist. "The instant his death was known," wrote the famous 18th-century traveler Dr. Burney, "all Italy manifested an eager desire to hear and possess his productions." And so it's been ever since. In spite of the competition already on the market, it seems Decca just had to get its prize lyric soprano and hotshot young countertenor together to record the piece. –Matthew Westphal