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Highly Reviewed Recordings

November 2 - November 15, 2011

HANDEL, G.F.: Opera Arias and Duets from Poro, Orlando, Radamisto, Flavio, Tamerlano, Ezio, Rinaldo, Alessandro, Amadigi and Ottone (Piau, Mingardo)
(naïve: OP30483)

HANDEL, G.F.: Opera Arias and Duets from Poro, Orlando, Radamisto, Flavio, Tamerlano, Ezio, Rinaldo, Alessandro, Amadigi and Ottone (Piau, Mingardo)

Handel's opera arias have been very well treated on disc; the duets not so generously. This collection should adjust the balance for a couple of reasons. One, the intelligent programming, which features selections not found on its closest competition--the excellent 2004 Virgin Classics release with Joyce DiDonato and Patrizia Ciofi; and two, the first-rate singing that not only captures the full measure of Handel's theatrical writing but shows how two distinctly different voices can combine to make scintillating, greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts performances. The opening duets from Poro, Orlando, and Radamisto make solid, stand-alone concert numbers, and soprano Sandrine Piau makes a strong technical/stylistic impression in her first solo aria ("Mà chi punir desio", from Flavio). Not so impressive is contralto Sara Mingardo's subsequent turn in her Tamerlano aria, where her "ha-ha-ha" melismatic articulation is a distracting turn-off. Some listeners won't mind, but this kind of lazy technique just makes me cringe.

Fortunately, this is all forgotten when we come to the heart of the recital where Mingardo loses the "ha-ha-ha" affect and makes really memorable music with Piau in the duet from Rinaldo, while a few minutes later she delivers the most moving, heart-rending "Pena tiranna" (from Amadigi di Gaula) ever recorded. Meanwhile, Piau contributes her own stunning performances of solo arias from Alessandro and Ezio.

While it's easier to accept a solo aria as a performance piece without necessarily having to know much--or anything--about its context in the opera (not that such information doesn't help our appreciation), the contextual details of a duet are even more crucial to a listener because here we have an interaction between two characters whose motivation is essential to understanding both the musical and dramatic cues. Piau and Mingardo are masters of character and of setting the dramatic mood, and conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini and his Concerto Italiano are ideal partners, whether in setting proper tempos or providing steady rhythmic support, or in laying down a vibrant, richly-colored instrumental foundation for one or both voices. This is exceptional music-making, and an important addition to the Handel opera catalog.

David Vernier,

MACHAUT, G. de: Motets (Musica Nova)
(aeon: AECD1108)

MACHAUT, G. de: Motets (Musica Nova)

Review Excerpt:
“…the recorded sound is magically clear: every detail is easily heard. That is of course partly a function of the singing, astonishingly clean and sharply focused, though with an energy and musicianship that breathe real life into each piece. Oddly, individual singers are not credited, so I cannot single out any for praise: actually, they are all exceptionally good.

The Hilliards and Musica Nova have given us—for the first time—two top-flight recordings. Any serious collection should have both.”

David Fallows, Gramophone

WAGNER, R.: Fliegende Hollander (Der) (The Flying Dutchman) [Opera] (Janowski)
(PentaTone: PTC5186400)

WAGNER, R.: Fliegende Hollander (Der) (The Flying Dutchman) [Opera] (Janowski)

“Hurrah! A major new Wagner recording! And—huzzah!—it’s the first in Marek Janowksi’s huge project to record them all. Well, all the major ones. It’s an auspicious start. If Albert Dohmen is a more human-scale (less charismatic) Dutchman than some rivals, he and the cast still make the text live. Janowski we know about. Roll on the next. “

James Inverne, Gramophone

BARTOK, B.: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / Viola Concerto (Ehnes, BBC Philharmonic, Noseda)
(Chandos: CHAN10690)

BARTOK, B.: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / Viola Concerto (Ehnes, BBC Philharmonic, Noseda)

What pushes this release over the top is the brilliant fiddling of James Ehnes, combined with the incredibly intelligent idea of putting all of Bartók's string concertos together on a single disc. Ehnes, for his part, is just as comfortable on the viola as he is on the violin. He digs into the rustic Hungarian melodies in the finale of the Viola Concerto or the beginning of the Violin Concerto No. 2 with a richly resonant gusto that never turns crude, while at the same time his impeccable intonation gives the slithery chromatics of the First concerto real shape and direction. He's a phenomenal artist, make no mistake. Gianandrea Noseda's accompaniments are very good--bracing and very well paced. As so often from these forces, however, the orchestra is a touch bland--never less than proficient, most of the time a good bit more than that, but also not as arresting and colorful as it could be. Still, as I said, the quality of Ehnes' playing and the value of the program earn this disc a top recommendation. Anything less would be churlish.

David Hurwitz,, October 7, 2011

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