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Aria for … Monday – Fra l’ombre e gl’orrori (Aci, Galatea e Polifemo)

In Aria For ..., Baroque, Classical Music, Handel, Opera on April 8, 2013 at 5:50 pm

One of the most frustrating things is not always having the time to write up and give due justice when a notable new recital disc is released.

On this occasion it was Christopher Purves’ disc of Handel arias for bass with the marvellous ensemble Arcangelo.

Sadly work and travel got in the way.

Again it’s nice when shuffle throws up something unexpected. And especially after a long day in the office and Fra l’ombre e gl’orrori from Handel’s Aci, Galatea e Polifemo was a perfect antidote to commuter-dom.

I have to admit that I prefer this, Handel’s earlier Italian version – by a decade – to the English version of 1718. As well as this aria there is the heart-stopping Verso gia l’alma col sangue and generally the music is beautifully original.

Fra l’ombre e gl’orrori shares the same sentiment and warm instrumental colouring of the aforementioned but there the similarity ends. This is possibly one of the bleakest simile arias ever written – the dying moth burnt from the lure of the flame drawing a parallel with a soul that will never know either hope nor pleasure of love.

And Handel writes an aria of great yet simple poignancy completely at odds – you would think – with the inhumanity of Polifemo. But personally, I prefer to think that Handel wished to make the giant less a monster and more a man as witnessed by the music written for the role over and above this aria.

With the distinct colouring of a flute – so often associated with death and tomb scenes in Handel’s operas and melancholy in general in Baroque music – the range required of the singer is vast. And married to this is the requirement for the singer to have absolute technical virtuosity and control to deliver and sustain the vocal line.

And Christopher Purves has it in spades. Of course I still have burned into my memory his incredible performance as The Protector in George Benjamin’s Written On Skin. Here his resonant and richly coloured bass effortlessly manages both the wide tessitura required but sung with complete mastery, never once letting the vocal line sag.

Purves’ performance in this aria – and the entire disc – only reaffirms him as a remarkable talent and one of the leading basses performing today.

And as ever, sympathetically supported by Arcangelo directed by Jonathan Cohen.

This aria would be reason enough to purchase this disc if it wasn’t for the fact that the entire disc is magnificent.

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