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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ann Hallenberg triumphs over multi-tasking and hidden agendas, 11 Mar 2013
This review is from: Hidden Handel - Ann Hallenberg (Audio CD)
Here we have a dozen arias by Handel, mostly written for revivals of his operas when a new singer took over a part and needed (or demanded) different music. Such "spare" arias have rarely been performed, and indeed the notes claim nine first recordings here. I reckon the true count is eight, but eight premier recordings are enough to make this an automatic purchase for Handel lovers.

The most interesting are three Handel inserted in Alessandro Scarlatti's opera "Pirro e Demetrio" revived in London in 1716, the only occasion Handel ever wrote extra music for someone else's opera. These were for the castrato Antonio Bernacchi, who had a range of a to f", a perfect match for Ann Hallenberg's voice. She sings them magnificently, beginning the first (on the first track of the disc) with a "messa di voce" - a long-drawn-out note, swelling and fading - which would have delighted Handel himself. Hallenberg is one of the very few contemporary singers who can be expressive without a trace of wobble, and she is very secure in coloratura and ornament. It's a pleasure to listen to her.

There is a "but" however; Alan Curtis does not stick to arias for Bernacchi or Domenico Annibali (range g to g"). He also gives his singer music Handel designed for Anastasia Robinson (d' to a"), Margherita Durastanti (d' to g") and Faustina Bordoni (c' to a"), which is a lot of voice-types for anyone to cover. Hallenberg copes very well. She has sometimes called herself a mezzo, sometimes an alto. I'd call her a Rossini voice - an agile alto with a high extension. She probably has a usable range of g to a", with a comfortable tessitura very like Bernacchi's, but she gets away with much real soprano music here, partly because Handel hardly ever writes above a'' for any voice (not that you'd know it from da capos in performances by Christie, Haim or, yes, Curtis).

For all that Hallenberg has a definite dark velvet alto colour, which would have surprised Handel in several of these arias. To hear what I mean, listen to her sing "Aure, fonti" written for Faustina Bordoni in her first Handel opera "Alessandro" (included here for no better reason, I imagine, than that Curtis has not recorded "Alessandro", nor is likely to). Then listen to the same aria in the recent Decca recording, and hear what Handel intended. It's not Hallenberg's fault - she sings the piece faultlessly - but she just isn't a soprano; the centre of her voice is a good third lower than Faustina's was.

Three more tracks have more to do with Curtis's hidden agendas than Handel's. There's an aria from "Muzio Scaevola", again for a soprano, and with a previous recording (but not by Curtis); there's a wonderful aria Curtis left out of his 1977 "Admeto" because he thought knew better than Handel (here claimed as a premier, but it's in two other "Admeto" recordings); and there's a third Curtis omitted from his 2009 "Berenice" set (because he knew better than Handel) and chooses to perform here in a version Handel himself never used.

I could also grumble about the strange choice of instrumental items - wind music which sounds odd in this context - and the use of a tiny band with scratchy violins (but lovely oboe), and Curtis's own rather foursquare conducting (you'll realise what can be done with Handel if you listen to the Decca "Alessandro"); but the truth is that Hallenberg and Handel here triumph over all obstacles.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 29 Nov 2013 01:45:45 GMT
Abert says:
Terrific review!
You know Handel better than Curtis.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Nov 2013 11:10:03 GMT
C. Wake says:
Thank you, but I doubt if it's true. Alan Curtis has done a very great deal of good Handelian work, but he is inclined to think he knows better than Handel.

Posted on 1 Jul 2014 06:50:47 BDT
Sid Nuncius says:
An excellent review - thanks. You've convinced me!
Kind regards
Sid
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C. Wake
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Location: West Country

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