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Arias from Giulio Cesare
At the Paris Opéra in early 2011, Natalie Dessay takes on a new starring role: Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, now the most popular of all the composer’s stage works. The many facets of the Egyptian queen – captured by Shakespeare in the phrase “infinite variety” – are depicted in a sequence of contrasting arias, both lyrical and brilliant, making the character a superb showcase for the French soprano’s talents as a singing actress.
Conducting the impressive cast and the period-instrument orchestra Le Concert d'Astrée at the Opéra – and on this new recording of excerpts from Giulio Cesare – is Emmanuelle Haïm, who first collaborated with Dessay in the late 1990s; both artists were involved in a Paris production of Handel’s Alcina, Haïm as répétiteur (for William Christie) and Dessay in the sparkling role of Morgana. Since then, the two have developed a close working relationship which has produced a number of Virgin Classics recordings, including several works by Handel: cantatas (in a collection called Delirio), the Dixit Dominus and the oratorio Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno, a recording which left the French magazine Diapason “looking forward to Emmanuelle Haïm’s next exciting Handelian adventure”.
Dessay describes Haïm as the metteur en scène – the stage director – for her voice, while Haïm describes Dessay’s voice as “an exceptional instrument which can take on a thousand forms ... Its virtuosity and flexibility make you forget all the difficulties presented by the music.” Haïm goes on to say that: “Handel is the composer for the voice. He demands special qualities that Natalie possesses: an ability to create colours, to embody words in song and to let the imagination speak.”
Reviewing Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno, Le Monde de la Musique observed that “the virtuosity and rich palette of Le Concert d’Astrée enable Emanuelle Haïm to match the colours and tempo to the emotion expressed”, while the New York Times wrote that: “Ms. Haïm directs the superb Baroque orchestra Le Concert d'Astrée in a fleet, immaculate performance that dances among airy, profound and sensuous moods. The excellent quartet of singers is led by the radiant, bright voice of the soprano Natalie Dessay, whose rapturous Bellezza traverses innocence, defiance and penitence by way of some impressively agile coloratura. ’Tu del ciel ministro eletto', her spare, haunting final aria with plaintive violin accompaniment, is glorious.” In Britain, the The Sunday Times found that “Natalie Dessay dazzles in Beauty’s arias – she is gorgeous in the sublime penitential concluding number … With Haïm conducting with élan, this is the best available version of this glorious score.”
“The performances are consistently attractive...Dessay's singing is never less than dazzling, and the stratospheric ornaments in the da capo of "Venere bella" are softly sensual.” Gramophone Magazine, March 2011
“Dessay's sheer skilfulness comes across unscathed, not least in the later big outpourings of suffering” BBC Music Magazine, March 2011 ***
“Dessay proves a supreme vocal enchantress.” The Telegraph, 18th March 2011 ****
“It is true that Dessay's vocal mechanism no longer works with the pearly fluidity of her younger self, but her artistry has never been more spellbinding...at her best Dessay is up there with the great Handelians, the most compelling Cleopatra in my experience since the unforgettable Valerie Masterson” International Record Review, April 2011
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This new Handel collection features two great singers alongside the English Concert, arguably one of the best baroque orchestras in the UK. Duets play a key role in Handel’s stage works. A master of the Baroque opera seria medium, with its extended sequence of solo arias and recitative dialogue, he understood the dramatic effectiveness of occasional numbers blending two voices, generally those of a soprano heroine and a castrato hero.
The exquisite programme offers a carefully chosen selection of Handel duets from his operas and oratorios Giulio Cesare, Belshazzar, Theodora, Ottone, Sosarme, Radimisto, Rodelinda, Agrippina and Tamerlano.
Sarah Connolly CBE has become a highly sought-after performer on the operatic stage in a wide range of repertoire. Her Handelian roles have including the title-role in Giulio Cesare for the Glyndebourne Festival; in Agrippina, Xerxes, Ariodante and Ruggiero (Alcina) for the English National Opera and Ino/Juno (Semele) for the San Francisco Opera. She also starred in the 2009 Last Night of the Proms.
Rosemary Joshua is well known for her Handel roles, having sung Ginevra (Ariodante) in San Diego; Angelica (Orlando) in Munich, for Covent Garden and at the Aix-en- Provence Festival; and the title-role in Semele for which she was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award and recorded for Chandos. Her recording of Partenope for Chandos was awarded the Stanley Sadie Handel Recording Prize.
The English Concert is conducted by Harry Bicket.
With a combination of such forces, this album is sure to make for a must-have for all Handel enthusiasts.
“The playing is crisp and the singing polished and stylish, with Joshua, in particular, conveying infectious delight in this sophisticated music.” BBC Music Magazine, May 2010 ****
“Connolly and Joshua are as outstanding a pair of Handel singers as one is likely to hear...The English Concert and Harry Bicket provide understated and efficient accompaniment...fans of both composer and these two singers will be enchanted by the highly accomplished music-making.” Gramophone Magazine, June 2010
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Albrecht Mayer - New Seasons
Handel for oboe and orchestra
Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (from Solomon)
Trio Sonata, HWV 393 in G minor: Largo
Dopo notte (from Ariodante)
Organ Concerto No.14, HWV 296a: Grave
Verdi prati (from Alcina)
Tornami a vagheggiar (from Alcina)
Lascia ch'io pianga (from Rinaldo)
Qui l'augel da pianta in pianta (from Aci, Galatea e Poliremo)
Organ Concerto Op.4 No. 2, HWV 209: Adagio e staccato
Alexander's Feast: Softly Sweet in Lydian Measures
Caro! Bella! Più amabile beltà (from Giulio Cesare)
Semele: Where'er you walk
Organ Concerto Op. 4 No. 3, HWV 291: Adagio
Semele: Hence, Iris, hence away
Solomon: Will the Sun Forget to Streak?
Allegro ("Voli per l'aria" from Cantata 'Tra le fiamme', HWV 170)
Largo from Xerxes (instrumental arrangement)
Organ Concerto Op. 7 No. 4, HWV 309: Adagio
Organ Concerto Op. 7 No. 4, HWV 309: Allegro
Sonata a cinque, HWV 288: Adagio
Minuett ("In queste amene" from Cantata 'Il delirio amoroso', HWV 99 & Suite for Cembalo No.3, HWV 436)
Variations for Oboe, Bassoon and Harpsichord
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Handel - Love Duets
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