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Handel – Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno

Concerto Italiano – cond Rinaldo Alessandrini

Naïve OP 30440 – 2 CDs –

La bellezza – Deborah York
Il piacere – Gemma Bertagnolli
Il disinganno – Sara Mingardo
Il tempo – Nicholas Sears

Handel’s first oratorio, written at the age of 22, provides an interesting mixture of the unfamiliar and familiar.  Unfamiliar, because here we have Handel writing in the Italian style, mindful of the conventions and tastes of Roman audiences of the early 1700s; familiar because it is brimful of tunes which this ever resourceful composer recycled later into well known works.

The piece is a gentle allegory, set to a fairish libretto by Benedetto Pamphilli, in which Beauty and Pleasure pit their resources against the onslaught of Time and Disillusion.    Truth dictates that the latter two will finally triumph, but they do so in a diplomatically soothing manner – there are no harsh dissonances in this music. 

No chorus is employed, so considerable demands are placed on the four excellent soloists. Deborah York as Beauty is charmingly effervescent and impresses with the agility with which she negotiates the long, difficult runs and she soars joyfully to the very top of her register.  

The second soprano, Pleasure, demands a warmer tone, amply supplied by Gemma Bertagnolli, perhaps overstepping a little strictly classical requirements, but very satisfying in this context. Her voice blends perfectly with York’s in their duet Il voler nel fior degl’anni

Nicholas Sears, tenor, represents Time.  His opening aria is taken at a very measured pace, you can almost hear the mental ticking of a clock.  Throughout, he lends his role an appropriate measure of gravitas.

But the real delight of this recording is the choice of a true contralto (rather than counter tenor) as Disinganno, no less than Sara Mingardo.  Every note she sings is produced with care and beauty.  She never oversteps the bounds of convention in her phrasing, and yet she finds huge depths of emotion in the slower sections.

All four singers combine well in their two ensembles.  Alessandrini directs competently, although there are moments when his tempi sound rushed. 

A welcome reissue.

Serena Fenwick

See other discs reviewed in this batch: Vivaldi and Jesuit music written in China .