Handel’s Unsung Heroes

Review by: David Vernier


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

The “unsung heroes” on this program are supposed to be the obbligato instrumental soloists and other prominently featured orchestral players that Handel often took pains to highlight in partnership with his star, virtuoso vocalists–and there’s no question that through the carefully chosen selections on this recording we are given ample opportunity to appreciate their contributions and exceptional artistry.

Oboist Leo Duarte, bassoonist Joe Qiu, and violinist Thomas Gould are as impressive for their individual virtuosity as they are for their ability to perfectly partner with a singer or other instrumentalists as required. Horns and trumpets also make their presence felt in their own memorable moments (the trumpets especially–four of them!–in the selections from Rinaldo). And, not to be forgotten is the orchestra itself: this one, directed by David Bates, definitely should not be left “unsung”, for its work here is exemplary, as fine as you will hear in this repertoire.

And yet, for me, when there are singers involved–especially singers of the caliber of soprano Lucy Crowe, mezzo Christine Rice, and countertenor Iestyn Davies–most of my attention, and the satisfaction in the performances, comes from them, while at the same time reveling in the ecstatic collaborative result.

There are two performances, both by Lucy Crowe, that among the program’s many other dazzling, moving, uniquely captivating ones, will keep me returning to this recording over and over. Her rendition of Cleopatra’s aria “V’adoro pupille” from Giulio Cesare in Egitto is a marvel: among the most vocally beautiful and affectingly sung Handel arias you will likely ever hear. And, not surprisingly, the accompaniment, ideally orchestrated, provides a perfectly balanced, warmly resonant sonority that only enriches Crowe’s singing. The disc’s final selection is pure fire and fury–Poppea’s aria “Se giunge un dispetto” from Agrippina–and I can’t think of a better word for the performance, featuring soprano and oboe, than the one used in the liner notes: “breathtaking”. For lovers of Handel, and of singing and instrumental playing nothing less than “heroic”, this generous recital (71 minutes) should not be missed.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Handel's Unsung Heroes

Arias & Instrumental Selections from Teseo (Ouverture); Rinaldo; Alcina; Giulio Cesare in Egitto; Ariodante; Aci, Galatea e Polifemo; Rodrigo (Passacaille); Amadigi di Gaula; Agrippina

  • Lucy Crowe (soprano); Christine Rice (mezzo-soprano); Iestyn Davies (countertenor); Leo Duarte (oboe); Joe Qiu (bassoon); Thomas Gould (violin)
  • Bates, David (conductor)
  • La Nuova Musica

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