Archive for June 1st, 2011|Daily archive page

Review – Arias by Nicola Porpora, Karina Gauvin/IlComplesso Barocco/Alan Curtis(ATMA Classique)

In Classical Music, Handel, Opera on June 1, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Having enjoyed both Karina Gauvin and Marie-Nicole Lemieux at a recent concert performance of Ariodante alongside the most wonderful Joyce DiDonato, I decided to search out their solo recital CDs.

Recital discs are unusual creatures. Some are faithful to one composer. Some try to capture the mood of a specific period or style. And others follow a programmatic narrative. Each has its own merits and on the whole are normally enjoyable whatever format they take. In the case of Ms Gauvin, accompanied by Il Complesso Barocco, she has dedicated the whole disc to Nicola Porpora, a contemporary of Handel. Marie-Nicole Lemieux, with the Orchestra National de France conducted by Fabien Gabel, has created a disc derived from French opera from the late 1780s to the early 1890s. A separate review will follow shortly.

So first to Ms Gauvin’s disc. The entire recital – as I have already mentioned – is drawn from operas and serenatas by Nicola Porpora. Two operas written specifically for London – Arianna in Nasso, Polifemo and La Festa d’Imeneo – provide the majority of the arias in this recital. During this time he was employed by the Opera Of The Nobility to best Handel, but considering that during that time Handel composed Ariodante and Alcina, it is hardly surprising that the ‘noble’ enterprise failed. Interestingly Gauvin/Curtis do not perform the arias in strict chronological order – Adelaide (1723); Ezio (1728); Polifemo (1735); Imeneo (1723); Angelica (1720) & Arianna in Nasso (1733). Additionally Handel himself composed operas on Ezio (1732), Imeneo (1740) and of course Acis and Galatea in English in 1718.

On the strength of this recital disc, Porpora was not a bad composer and in fact, while he does not attain the brilliance of Handel’s greatest arias, it is easy to see why they thought he could rival the Saxon.

The arias from Polifemo are well crafted and – as with Arianna in Nasso – can be directly compared with Handel as they were written to compete. The arioso-style of Aci, Amato mio bene for example with it’s recorders and mood swings is a highlight of the recital and well sung by Gauvin. The subsequent siciliana, Smanie with it’s delicate coloratura and interplay between the vocal line and the violins is equally memorable.

The arias from Adelaide, Nobil Onde and Non sempre invendicata, with the runs, trills and generous use of martial trumpets clearly show that Porpora was writing for particularly skilled singers and, more importantly, knew how to write for the voice. Non son io che parlo from Ezio has a particularly pathetic yet beautiful character as does Mi chiederesti from Imeneo and in fact there is something remarkably similar about them. Another notable aria is drawn from Angelica. With its suspensions and use of dramatic pauses its an unusually beautiful aria to be found in a serenata, and clearly the event for which it was written at the Palazzo del Principe di Torella was of particular significance.

Arianna in Nasso, might predate Polifemo but is the stronger of the two ‘London’ operas and therefore awarded more space in the recital. Following the overture, with it’s modified French-style structure, it’s easy to see why the Nobility thught they might be onto a ‘winner’. Il tuo dolce mormorio and Misera sventurata with it’s oboe obbligato are particularly fine. The final aria Si caro ti consola comes the closest to Handel in terms of beauty and musicianship with dramatic recitative interrupting and replacing the aria and makes a fitting ending to the recital.

Karina Gauvin, Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco make more than an eloquent argument for Porpora with this disc. Even more than at Ariodante at the Barbican, Ms Gauvin displays a very sure and confident technique balanced with intelligent singing and embellishment. Perhaps because it is a studio recording, her tone sounds warmers and more silken. She clearly enjoys the arias and her diction is clean and meaningful, and while it is well-nigh impossible to impart any sense of character, she makes a real bid to make these characters seem more than one dimensional.

I know that Il Complesso Barocco is not everyone’s cup of tea, but personally I think they are a great band of players. As on their Handel recordings they play with great sensitivity and style.

I did read somewhere that Handel was directly influenced by – and in some cases plagiarised from – his contemporaries. And while very few of these arias stand the comparison test, there are moment when my memory was pleasantly jolted. So if you like Handel operas, and on the merit of the performances on this disc, then this recital would make more than simply an interesting addition to your collection.


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