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Angelika and Vivica Join the Handel Club

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Angelika Kirchschlager, Händel Arien, Kammerorchester Basel, L. Cummings
(released November 14, 2006)

Other Handel Discs Reviewed at Ionarts:
Cecilia Bartoli | Sarah Connolly
Natalie Dessay | Renée Fleming
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson
Sandrine Piau | Andreas Scholl
Last fall, Ionarts had the pleasure of hearing Angelika Kirchschlager on the stage here in Washington, in the title role of Nicholas Maw's Sophie's Choice, a role that she created. The Austrian mezzo-soprano has garnered significant critical attention, most recently in an oddly staged Pelléas et Mélisande at Covent Garden, for both her voice and her good looks. A copy of her 2006 CD of Handel arias has recently come across my desk, and I wish it had not taken so long. Kirchschlager has a suave voice, raffiné, tending toward covered tone rather than grain in the high range (and sometimes coloring slightly flat, but not offensively so). Her strengths are generally in nuanced line rather than in sheer power or forceful vocalism, and while her performances of fast arias here are impressive, if perhaps under-ornamented, it is the slow pieces where she really excels. In fact, she admits her own bias in this direction in the liner notes:
"To me Handel's ingeniousness appears most explicitly in his slow arias," she says. "The most incredible emotions and 'tremblings of the soul' are linked only to a very few notes. Basically the power of the music comes out of nothing -- but this 'nothing' seems to be everything." (remarks quoted by Martin Bernheimer)
The selections are taken from three Handel operas, beginning with Ariodante, in which Kirchschlager has just sung the title role, as reviewed in Le Figaro, Libération, and the Financial Times. This was staged at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées with Christophe Rousset, Les Talens Lyriques, and Vivica Genaux (see below) as Polinesso. Sesto was the first Handel role Kirchschlager sang on stage, in Glyndebourne's 2005 Giulio Cesare, and it is featured second on this disc. The final set of arias is taken from a much less familiar opera, Arianna in Creta, and any company deciding to mount it should engage Kirchschlager for the role of Teseo she sings here. On this recording, made only last August, Kirchschlager collaborated with the Kammerorchester Basel, a conductor-less chamber orchestra with, in this case, British conductor Laurence Cummings at the helm. The results make for excellent listening, with lush and active sound from all sections, even those notoriously difficult horns.

Sony BMG 82876889522

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Vivica Genaux, Handel and Hasse Arias, Les Violons du Roy, B. Labadie
(released September 12, 2006)
The Handel CD (with some Hasse) from Alaskan soprano Vivica Genaux is just slightly older and has also recently come my way. Her name first came up at Ionarts in my review of Vivaldi's Bajazet, a recent recording from Europa Galante. Shortly after that, she had a role in Rossini's L'Assedio di Corinto at Baltimore Opera, and we will have the chance to hear her Rossini again next year, in the Bianca e Falliero from Washington Concert Opera. (At some point, I should review her 2003 Bel Canto CD of Rossini and Donizetti.) Genaux's voice, like so many mezzos, is distinctively colored and perhaps not guaranteed to please every ear. Her sometimes active vibrato is often quite close to her nervous, almost dissonant trill. Genaux's strength is not in long-lined legato, in which a tremulous agitation often twitches underneath the surface. She shines most strongly in the fast arias (like Sta nell'Ircana pietrosa tana, one of Ruggiero's arias in Alcina), with dazzling passagework, and in the excellent embellished da capos and cadenzas (uncredited, and so probably either by Genaux or the conductor, Bernard Labadie).

For her Handel and Hasse recording, Genaux worked with Labadie and his Canadian historically informed performance ensemble, Les Violons du Roy. The last time that they were in Washington, it was to give a beautiful, Handel-heavy program with soprano Karina Gauvin. Their sound is lean and lovely in this recording, with a svelte and unified violin section and exceptionally accurate wind playing. The group's concert here in Washington included a number of dance pieces from Handel operas, showing off Labadie's experienced hand at realizing the character of Baroque dance which so infuses music of this period, a strength that comes through in this recording, too. It is especially nice to combine Handel with some rare enough recording space for the music of Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783), with selections from one of his operas, Arminio, and a cantata, La scusa. This matches up respectably with pieces from Handel's Orlando and Alcina and his lovely cantata in honor of St. Cecilia, Splenda l'alba in oriente. In a nice marketing touch, you can watch a nifty video on the collaboration of Genaux and the instrumentalists.

Virgin Classics 7243 5 45737 2 9

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