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Delirio, Handel Italian Cantatas, Natalie Dessay, Le Concert d'Astrée, Emmanuelle Haïm (released on January 10, 2006)

Other Handel Discs:

Cecilia Bartoli

Renée Fleming

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson

Sandrine Piau

Andreas Scholl
I am elated that Handel discs (or at least recitals that have at least some Handel arias) from major opera singers continue to cross my desk. Some have been astounding (Bartoli, Hunt Lieberson, Piau), and all have been good listening. Perhaps it is my baroqueux bias showing, but the best ones have paired singers with historically informed performance (HIP) experience -- LHL and Piau -- with HIP instrumental ensembles. So I was not expecting total perfection with this disc, which pairs a fine French HIP ensemble, Le Concert d'Astrée, and its talented conductor, Emmanuelle Haïm, with Natalie Dessay. The beloved French soprano has long been one of my favorite voices, but she is much more a mainstream opera singer than a Baroque specialist, and her methods in learning new music would seem to make stylistic changes difficult.

Shame on me! Dessay is a vocal chameleon. After years of singing the Queen of the Night, she came back from serious vocal troubles to debut a tender and transporting Pamina this summer in Santa Fe. On this recording, she adapts her clear, puissant, agile soprano to the considerable demands of Handel's writing, in cantatas made during his time in Italy. Her Italian pronunciation is passable (Rita de Letteriis is credited as Language Coach), and her embellishments and cadenzas (uncredited -- I would guess they are the work of Emmanuelle Haïm) open up in virtuosic flights of fancy.

The instrumental contributions are no less impressive, with fine cadenzas and arching lines soaring in parallel with Dessay, especially from violinist Stephanie-Marie Degand in the main piece, Delirio amoroso, a cantata that almost resembles a court ballet because of all the dance pieces for instruments. Patrick Beaugirard's oboe is the birdsong echoing Galatea's sad calls into the emptiness of the forest in the single aria from Aci, Galatea e Polifemo. The pastoral dialogue is turned on its head, with the delusion of Chloris in Delirio amoroso answered by a shepherd who loves her (not named) in the final work, Mi palpita il cor. Ah, the sorrows of a shepherd's life.

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