Four little-known pastoral cantatas by the young Handel in new and stylishly Italianate recordings.
In 1706, 21-year-old Handel arrived in Italy as a prodigious celebrity, already having caught the eye and won the patronage of the Medici family in Florence. Further honours and rewards were heaped on him when he moved to Rome the following year and came under the sponsorship of the most cultured and influential of the city’s noble families. It was for them that he wrote a string of secular cantatas, on time-honoured and popular themes of arcadian and amorous bliss.
These Roman cantatas have received more attention from scholars and performers in recent years, but the four presented here are still relatively unfamiliar, beginning with the brief, hunting-themed Diana cacciatrice HWV79. This cantata’s striking feature is an aria with echo soprano and trumpet solo, while Alpestre monte is an anguished tale of betrayal and suicide, including a pair of ravishing arias (again for soprano).
Faithfulness is once more the vexed question posed by the album’s best-known cantata, Tu fedel? Tu costante? The searing purity of Carlotta Colombo’s soprano makes her a worthy successor to distinguished early-music specialists who have taken on the work, including Emma Kirkby. Conceived on a grander scale, Olinto pastore arcade alle glorie del Tebro is scored for three solo singers, to present an allegorical discussion between the shepherd Olinto, the river Tiber and the embodiment of Glory, concerning how the humble shepherd (a veiled allusion to Handel’s patron at the time) will restore Rome to her ancient greatness.
The singer and conductor Roberto Balconi founded Fantazyas in 2000 as a flexible ensemble of instruments and voices specialising in Italian music of the 17th and 18th centuries. They have toured across Europe and Japan.
Georg Frideric Handel (1685-1759) had probably encountered Gian Gastone de’ Medici, son of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, in Hamburg at some point before heading south to Italy, where he arrived in August 1706, staying in Florence as a guest of Ferdinando de’ Medici. Keen to acquire new creative inspiration, the following year the composer decided to visit Rome, where a number of powerful patrons chose to support him, including Cardinals Benedetto Pamphilj and Pietro Ottoboni. It was in Rome that Handel first composed oratorios. In the summer of 1707, he returned briefly to Florence to stage his first Italian opera, Rodrigo. He was soon back in Rome, however, finding the atmosphere there particularly stimulating for the production of his secular cantatas.
Handel’s numerous cantatas on Italian librettos largely use one, two or three voices with basso continuo and instrumental accompaniment. Many of them embody elements relating to dramatic structure that were to characterize the arias and scenes of the grand operas he staged during his career in England. The subjects of the Rome cantatas tend to be pastoral, Arcadian, amorous or on occasions celebrative.
This new recording presents the cantatas Diana Cacciatrice HWV79, Alpestre Monte HWV81, Tu fedel? Tu costante? HWV171 and Olinto pastore, Tebro fiume, Gloria HWV143. Music of great power, charm and drama, blessed with Handel’s melodic genius.
Sung by three excellent Italian singers Carlotta Colombo (soprano), Maria Dalia Albertini (soprano) and Marta Fumagalli (contralto). Roberto Balconi directs the ensemble Fantazyas, playing on authentic instruments. The same forces already recorded for Brilliant Classics works by Duni, Ghizzolo and Caccini, which was nominated for the prestigious Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik.