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5 stars for performers, 4 stars for production,
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This review is from: Handel - Riccardo Primo, re d'Inghilterra / Zazzo, Rial, McGreevy, Kammerorchster Basel, Goodwin (Audio CD)
Every Handel opera, however "little known" always betrays the incomparable genius that Handel was. So as an opera its a great discovery because it seems to me that the overall quality of this one, and others like Scipione, is very fine indeed with a high proportion of superb arias and varied and careful orchestration with a lot of attention to detail and colour, despite perhaps not the best example of recording clarity here.
In Feb 1727 Handel became British, and later that year finished Riccardo Primo - an English historical setting perhaps complementing his new-found nation status. In Nov 1727 the premiere included the very best singers - Senesino, Cuzzoni (Constanza), Faustina (Pulcheria) Boschi (Isacio), Baldi (Oronte).
Of the many brilliant arias, the following spring to mind: Se m'e contrario il Cielo (Constanza) beautiful, evocative; Di notte il pellegrino (Constanza) although the context is tragic, the wandering line of the soprano and the striking syncopated feel of bits of the ritornellos show a subtle, wry wit born along by the sheer beauty and bounty of the music; Ti vedro regnar sul trono & nel mondo e nell'abisso (Isacio) 2 tremendous force-laden arias for Boschi with real menace and compulsive contrapuntal drive; Alto immenso Poter (Constanza) short but profound; L'aquila altera (Pulcheria) very powerful aria for Faustina; Bacia per me la mano (Constanza) beautiful slow Handel.
This recording is a wonderful effort at this unjustly neglected masterpiece. At times I found the overall 'feel' & approach a little heavy, and there is a bit of reverb its true, but so what - this works very well for Alto immenso Poter, Isacio's arias, L'aquila altera and others. The sound has a 'live' quality to it which makes it fresh & present, but also at times results in the strange positioning of various orchestral sounds and some fuddle. My impression is that the recording/production might have supported the performers more.
Am not at all fond of the falsetto sound in Handel's operas, so while Lawrence Zazzo is fine he doesn't carry the part for me. Nuria Rial is wonderful, an early music/baroque specialist I think, and brings her own lovely qualities to the role - and she carries the burden of the big arias very well indeed - lovely voice.
There are inumerable things to quibble about, its not perfect, but its the best available recording to date. Winton Dean's comment that Di notte il pellegrino, if taken too fast, destroys it is indeed true of the only other recording available - but not here, Paul Goodwin has got it just right.