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Briefly Noted: Sandrine Piau Enchants (CD of the Month)

available at Amazon
Handel, Opera Arias and Concerti Grossi, S. Piau, Les Paladins, J. Correas

(released on January 7, 2022)
Alpha 765 | 72'08"
This new release from Alpha had me at Sandrine Piau, whose recordings and live performances we have followed for twenty years (last reviewed in Washington in 2016). Add to that the programming, which allows Piau to incarnate some of Handel's notorious seductresses, sirens, sorceresses, and wronged women: Alcina, Lucrezia, Cleopatra, Melissa, Almirena, Adelaide. One final point to recommend it even before listening: this is the fourth collaboration of Piau with Jérôme Correas and his ensemble Les Paladins. Correas, a bass-baritone known from several blockbuster operas recorded by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, founded this group in 2001. In these tracks recorded at the Théâtre de Poissy, "on the eve of a lockdown" in October 2020, is the sense of urgency that Correas describes, as the musicians "raced against the clock to bring this recording to life." Piau adds that the location was also the site of her first recital recording, an auspicious return.

The musical relationship is one of comfort and trust, judging by the ease in Piau's voice, as Correas and his musicians move as one with her every whim, from soaring antics down to breathy depths in an amazing cadenza and embellished da capo adorning "Da tempesta" from Giulio Cesare. In "Piangerò la sorte mia" from the same opera, taken at a lush crawl, Piau's plangent floating tone is matched by warm strings and active continuo from Benjamin Narvey's theorbo. Correas, taking the harpsichord part himself, accompanies the brilliant, tortured gem "Alla salma infedel" from the cantata La Lucrezia. In the equally unfamiliar "Desterò dall'empia dite" from Amadigi di Gaula, there are amazing acrobatics among Piau, trumpet, and oboe. Instrumental selections, including movements from Handel's concerti grossi and one sparkling overture (from Amadigi di Gaula), round out a phenomenal disc, complete with authoritative program notes by Barbara Nestola, head of research at the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles.

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