Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Handel's Italian Cantatas

I was pleasantly surprised looking at the index to my collection of recordings to find that I have no less than 193 recordings of the cantatas or duetti that Handel wrote in Italy, starting in 1706-7 when he was 21-22 years old – probably not old enough to order a gin & tonic in California. A goodly number of these works feature in a Glossa CD edition, of which I have the first seven CDs. These all feature Fabio Bonizzoni with La Risonanza, and a varying cast of Italian singers including the versatile Roberta Invernizzi (soprano).

This is young Handel Showing Off music, with music pouring out of him, memorable melody after memorable melody, imaginative accompaniments and instrumentation. Already in the first Glossa CD we have a virtuoso soprano in Tra le Fiamme. A virtuoso violin part in Un pensiero voli in ciel (Il Delirio Amoroso) – written for Arcangelo Corelli who headed the band in Rome. There is then a lovely solo cello part in Per te lasciai la luce (same cantata). And so on ….. One can understand Beethoven's recorded comment in 1823 that "Handel is the greatest composer that ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel on his grave."

Too often, for most people, Handel is now The Messiah, plus Water Music, plus Fireworks Music. But even when we have digested his 42 operas and 27 or so oratorios, it is a draft of fresh spring water to listen to his Italian cantatas and duetti. I, at least, have been able to bow my head at the site of Handel's grave in Westminster Abbey (as well as to visit his birthplace and early abode at Halle in Saxony). One day I'll even make it to 25 Brook Street in London to visit the house in which he lived for 36 years.

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