This is a very important recording as it brings to us the music of young Handel. For a careful listener and from historic sources it is evident that he has been borrowing all his artistic life from his youthful compositions, and many of these cantatas have provided foundation or inspiration for future grandiose works.
The first one on this recording, Armida Abbandonata, is perhaps the most significant. Ariosto had provided endless source for best of Handel's operas, such as Alcina, Orlando and Ariodante; while Torquato Tasso's "La Gerusalemme liberata" created his own version of events, via Armida and Rinaldo characters, who are of course parallel to Alcina and Ruggiero.
Cantata Armida Abbandonata is already pregnant with Rinaldo - the opera that made Handel famous overnight in London. It seems that he has special inclination to this sorceress, as he wrote his best music for her. This cantata is no exception - in the section "Ah! Crudele, e pur ten vai" (track #2 on the CD), in the second line - "e mi lasci in poreda al duolo" we can clearly hear the embryo of most famous of all Handel's melodies - "Lascia ch'io pianga" aria from the opera Rinaldo, sung by Almirena, the daughter of Godefroy de Bouillon and the bride to Rinaldo; ironically she is abducted by Armida there, but here the melody is sung by the sorceress herself.
Next, in the first Handel's siciliana, the last section of the cantata "In tanti affanni miei" (track #7 on CD) we recognize "Mi lagnero tacendo" - an aria of Laodice from a much later opera Siroe, Re di Persia. It is noteworthy to hear how much Handel owes to Alessandro Scarlatti, who influenced his early developments as a composer; and I will mention that Domenico Scarlatti was born in the same year as Handel - 1685, when Alessandro was 25 years old.
The Cantate on this recording were written for Margherita Durastante, who was at the time 21 years old and entered the service of Marquis Ruspoli when arrived in Rome. Ruspoli hired the best musicians of the time, and he also owned some of the best musical instruments - one harpsichord was offered as a gift to his wife by Ferdinando de Medici, the Great Prince of Tuscany, the oldest child of Cosimo III, older brother of Gian Gastone, the patron of the arts, the correspondent of Alessandro Scarlatti, and the author of five operas himself.
It is no wonder that in the atmosphere of such utmost opulence and refined knowledge such beautiful and entertaining music was created. To further amazement one reads that Marquis Ruspoli lived in Palazzo Bonelli at the Piazza SS. Apostoli - thereby being a neighbor to Colonna family and living at the same square with Chiesa dei SS. Apostoli where Michelangelo Buonarroti was first placed to rest on 18 February 1564, before being transported to Santa Croce in Firenze 18 days later.
However for the distinguished guests Marquis Ruspoli kept Palazzo Pecci-Blunt under the Capitolium. This is where Handel was welcomed in 1707.
The cantata Armida Abbandonata is also magnificently orchestrated, and it is in the other cantata on the disk, Notte Placida e Cheta, that we can hear virtuosic violin part; the sound is especially rich since the conductor, Fabio Bonizzoni, reinforced the orchestra with additional violinists as "ripieno" - a practice Handel exercised while in service of Marquis Ruspoli. The cantata seems to express Handel's personal aversion towards any sentimental attachment to anyone, and this theme is well developed in his other works, such as in cantata "Il delirio amoroso" for Cardinal Pamphili (it is available in the same series in volume I - Le Cantate per il Cardinal Pamphili). It is enigmatic to ponder over Handel's amoroso adventures, but an idea that he avoided love, affection, strong emotions in order to preserve his genius is the simplest and most plausible, even if it is disappointing to many. But perhaps if he didn't, we would not have his splendid music. In this respect he was true Orpheus, or rather, Apollo, a divinity devoted to art and culture.
This recording is a must-hear for Baroque music lovers.