Gillian Keith’s Respectable German Arias

Review by: David Vernier


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 10

In 1985 there was Emma Kirkby and London Baroque; in 2000 there was Dorothea Röschmann and the Akademie für Alte Musik; and now we have Canadian soprano Gillian Keith and Florilegium. Others have also performed and recorded Handel’s Nine German Arias, but these three represent the most successful and, in the first two instances, most enduring renditions on disc. How “enduring” this newcomer will be remains to be seen, but soprano Gillian Keith certainly has the voice–and the stylistic sensibility–for these substantial if underappreciated gems, written by Handel in London (1724-27) and set to poems by Barthold Heinrich Brockes.

Compared to the other two, Keith’s voice lies neatly in the middle, between the lighter, brighter Kirkby and the darker, more consequential Röschmann. Perhaps not surprisingly, Keith’s tempos almost invariably take a middle ground, and even Keith’s vibrato tends toward a not unpleasing flutter, versus Kirkby’s natural unadorned quality and Röschmann’s more operatic character. Interpretively, Röschmann by far delivers the more nuanced and dramatically wide-ranging performance, while Kirkby just delivers the goods in the most unpretentious, energetic, sincere manner; Keith is closest to Kirkby in this respect, and it’s hard not to be charmed by her straightforward style and youthful tone and temperament, even if we don’t find ourselves marveling at anything memorably distinctive.  Rather, it’s just fine and, well, very respectable.

Recordings of the arias need to be filled out with other material, usually some instrumental works from the period. The Röschmann/Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin program features two Telemann quartets, and, unlike the other two recordings, colors the aria accompaniments with instruments other than the usual standard continuo. Kirkby’s London Baroque recording intersperses the arias with movements from Handel’s Op. 1 No. 12 F major violin sonata; the current Gillian Keith/Florilegium disc offers two Handel trio sonatas and another “attributed” Handel work, Concerto a Quattro.

I guess the bottom line here is, take your pick–you won’t go wrong with any of them. For me, the Kirkby hits the style and tone without fuss or muss–and her voice just seems ideal for this music; Röschmann’s take is unique, necessary, and profoundly engaging; and Keith’s is, well, right there in the middle, competent, compelling, and worthy of the competition.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Röschmann/Akademie für Alte Musik (Harmonia Mundi); Kirkby/London Baroque (EMI)

  • HANDEL, G.F.:
    Neun deutsche Arien; Trio Sonata in E minor Op. 5 No. 3; Trio Sonata in B minor Op. 2 No. 1; Concerto a Quattro in D minor

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