George Frederick Handel (1685-1759), one of the preeminent Baroque composers, was born in Germany, educated in Italy, and spent most of his career in England, making him one of the first genuinely cosmopolitan composers noted, for the elegance, sophistication, and tunefulness of his music. He established his reputation in London as a composer of Italian opera, but after public taste shifted in the 1730s, he turned to English oratorios, the most famous of which is Messiah. Other popular works include Water Music, Royal Fireworks Music, the operas Giulio Cesare and Serse, and the oratorios Israel in Egypt and Judas Maccabeus.
When the German transverse flute found its place in Italy and was accepted by the Catholic church as a suitable replacement for the proscribed recorder, Antonio Vivaldi took to it with great enthusiasm. His flute concertos mark a point of departure, coming after he had completed his 40 bassoon concertos and virtually all of the string concertos. Although some of these pieces were reworkings of material previously composed for recorder, Vivaldi came to capitalize on new techniques he learned from Ignazio Siber, the flute instructor at the Ospedale della Pietà. Of Vivaldi's 15, the 7 flute concertos presented here were freshly written for the instrument. Each has a distinct character and the levels of virtuosity vary between them, but all are charming and rank among Vivaldi's freshest compositions. The most famous of these works is the expressive Concerto in D major, nicknamed "Il Gardellino," the only one of the flute concertos to be published in Vivaldi's lifetime. Flutist Janet See plays with a chaste tone, at times suggestive of the recorder's sound but more focused and controlled, especially in rapid passages. The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, under Nicholas McGegan's direction, gives delicate support and transparent accompaniment to set off See's buoyant performance.(Blair Sanderson)
Such stalwarts as Christopher Hogwood, Marc Minkowski, John Eliot Gardiner, and Nicholas McGegan tackled Handel's early oratorio La Resurrezione before Emmanuelle Haïm, but hers may well be the most passionate performance of the once-rare work yet recorded. Part of the reason is Haïm's own fiery nature. Nothing here is merely filler: every aria, recitative, and interlude is played for maximum musical and emotional value. Part of her success is due to Haïm's choice of soloists. While some listeners might wish soprano Camilla Tilling brought more strength to her part, she and the other four soloists bring plenty of intensity to their singing.
Atalanta (HWV 35) is a pastoral opera in three acts by George Frideric Handel composed in 1736. It is based upon the mythological female athlete, Atalanta, the libretto (which is in Italian) being derived from the book La Caccia in Etolia by Belisario Valeriani. The identity of the librettist is not known. Handel composed it for the London celebrations of the marriage in 1736 of Frederick, Prince of Wales, eldest son of King George II, to Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. The first performance took place on 12 May 1736 in the Covent Garden Theatre. It closed with a spectacular display of fireworks, which was highly popular with the royal family and the London audience, and the opera and fireworks display were revived a number of times in the year of its first performance.
L'opera fu composta nel 1712 e andò in scena per la prima volta il 22 novembre dello stesso anno, sotto la direzione del compositore stesso, al Her Majesty's Theatre di Londra. L'accoglienza fu generalmente negativa, probabilmente a causa delle elevate aspettative che il pubblico nutriva in seguito al successo dell'opera Rinaldo. Un commentatore riporta che "la scenografia rappresentava unicamente l'Arcadia, i costumi erano vecchi e l'opera breve". I ruoli di Mirtillo e Silvio furono interpretati dai castrati Valeriano Pellegrini e Valentino Urbani. L'ouverture è in sei movimenti appare eccessivamente ampia per quei tempi: è verosimile pensare che fosse stata scritta come una suite orchestrale distinta dall'opera.
McGegan's recording is of considerable documentary interest in that a separate section at the conclusion of each of the three parts of Messiah - there are three discs accordingly - is reserved for the many alternative versions of arias, accompanied recitatives and choruses which Handel himself used or at least approved in performances during the 1740s and 1750s. In this way, the booklet explains, the listener can select which version of the work he/she wants to listen to at any given time. About six versions are possible from the 18 alternative tracks provided on the three CDs. By following a table printed in the back of the booklet (a few minutes' mental gymnastics are initially required) you can programme your CD player to replace particular arias with others.
Giustino is the Baroque version of a ‘ripping yarn’. The eponymous hero rises from ploughboy to emperor via an action-packed curriculum vitae that has him seeing visions, routing traitors, fighting bears and even slaying a sea-monster! Written in the autumn of 1736, shortly after Handel had suffered a period of ill-health, Giustino is not among his greatest operas, but it is thoroughly entertaining and offers much fine music. Particularly felicitous are Giustino’s bucolic aria ‘Può ben nascere tra li boschi’ and Anastasio’s lovely ‘O fiero e rio sospetto’. The headlong pace leaves Handel little time to develop the more sensual, amorous side of his music. One exception – and the opera’s most entrancing interlude – is the ravishing love duet in Act II, superbly sung here by Dorothea Röschmann (Arianna) and Dawn Kotoski (Anastasio). Michael Chance too is outstanding in the title role, proving that even countertenors can exude machismo. Nicholas McGegan coaxes a stylish performance from the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. Giustino is the fourth Handel opera he has now recorded following a staging at the Göttingen Festival and this is his most assured reading to date. Mention in the credits of a Bear Growl Advisor suggests a commendable attention to grizzly detail. (Graham Lock)
It is only a short while since I reviewed a suite of dances from Rameau's opera, Nais. Now, hard on the heels of that disc (also conducted by McGegan, Harmonia Mundi, 7/95) comes a reissue of the entire work, albeit with judicious cuts. Nais was commissioned to celebrate the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, and first performed the following year. Thus it was a vocal counterpart to Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks, both pieces marking the conclusion of the War of the Austrian Succession. The present recording was made in 1980 following performances at London's Old Vic Theatre and at Versailles under the auspices of Lina Lalandi's enterprising English Bach Festival.
Agrippina (HWV 6) is an opera seria in three acts by George Frideric Handel with a libretto by Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani. Composed for the 1709–10 Venice Carnevale season, the opera tells the story of Agrippina, the mother of Nero, as she plots the downfall of the Roman Emperor Claudius and the installation of her son as emperor. Grimani's libretto, considered one of the best that Handel set, is an "anti-heroic satirical comedy", full of topical political allusions. Some analysts believe that it reflects Grimani's political and diplomatic rivalry with Pope Clement XI.