Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Great Handel - Ian Bostridge, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment







Listening to these very diverse arias, it's easy to understand why Beethoven is reported to have esteemed Handel above all other composers. The program includes three of his greatest hits: "Ev'ry Valley," "Where'er You Walk," and "Ombra mai fu." The other arias, taken from operas and oratorios and in Italian and English, are less familiar but no less great. They display Handel's versatile, multi-faceted genius and his ability to express every human mood and emotion through purely musical means. In his liner notes, Ian Bostridge traces his Handelian roots back to his childhood. Indeed the style seems natural to him. Bostridge even makes the arias written for castrati persuasive, despite the difference in key and color. His coloratura runs are brilliant, while his intonation and diction impeccable. However, the baroque orchestra's flat tuning sometimes forces Bostridge into an uncomfortably low register, and his habit of starting notes without vibrato and swelling them tends to become mannered, disrupting the melodic flow. The orchestra is excellent, but with sparing vibrato and straight-forward phrasing seems to inhabit a different stylistic world. Moreover, it sounds distant and subdued, as does soprano Kate Royal, who joins Bostridge in two duets. The program, though compiled for maximum contrast, may be most enjoyable in moderate doses. --Edith Eisler


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