Classical CD Reviews

HANDEL Arias – Angelika Kirchschlager, soprano/ Kammerorchester Basel/ Laurence Cummings – Sony Classical

They have gone all-out in this production for Sony's resident Babe-soprano

Published on January 25, 2007

HANDEL Arias – Angelika Kirchschlager, soprano/ Kammerorchester Basel/ Laurence Cummings – Sony Classical
HANDEL Arias – Angelika Kirchschlager, soprano/ Kammerorchester Basel/ Laurence Cummings – Sony Classical 82876889522, 66:40 ****:

Handel is becoming all the rage. Every singer worth his/her salt is now almost forced into a position of proving himself in the repertory. No longer is it s specialized realm of highly-proficient baroque singers, but is now as common as releasing a Mozart album (and they are still doing plenty of that too). But for years the composer was known only for Messiah, then the Royal Fireworks and Water Music, and a few smattering pieces between the then and there. Staged productions of any of the oratorios or operas were rare, and often done in a rather pedantic and uninspired manner. My, how much has changed!

Just in the last couple of years we have had amazing Handel recital albums by Renee Fleming, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Natalie Dessay, Magdalena Kozena, Veronique Gens, and Sandrine Piau. There is not a weak link among them, accounting for the tiny discrepancies in tonal luster and variances in interpretative ability. Works that used to be the specialty of singers like Emma Kirkby are now moving into the mainstream, and audiences seem to be eating it up. Handel is a great genius, and may end up being regarded as the foremost opera composer of his or any other time, with a great gift for astonishingly vital and lovely melody.

With this sort of cheese in the trap, it was only a question of time until Sony’s resident Babe-soprano, Angelika Kirchschlager, joined in the fray, and they have gone all-out in this production. They did neglect Super Audio, a terrible omission in my opinion, but otherwise lavished as much effort on the sound as possible. The booklet is a visual feast, with texts and translations, good notes, and plenty of multi-colored smooth-page renderings of the luscious-looking singer in various stages of girlish fun-time. This would all be a bit silly of course if she couldn’t sing, but she can, and offers a lot to this genre that you might not find so easily elsewhere.

The arias are from three operas, Ariodante, Giulio Cesare, and the lesser known Arianna in Creta (if you know Ariadne auf Naxos by Strauss, you will be familiar with the plot elements of this one). Kirchschlager has a strong voice, with lots of power across the spectrum, and delivers in spades. This is not drawing-room Handel by any stretch of the imagination, and she brings a ferocity and energy that is missing in most other recordings. Her invested emotions in the music are palpable and resonant—if you like your Handel neatly tucked and tided up, look elsewhere. And the delicacy and tenderness of her slow pieces are almost infectious in their Siren-like sensuality. Again, this is big-girl Handel, not for children, and affords yet another look at the multifaceted George Frederick as he emerges from years of misunderstanding and neglect.

The Kammerorchester Basel is making somewhat of a splash on the international scene these days, and Laurence Cummings has them playing with an eager involvement that suits Angelika Kirchschlager’s tempting interpretations to a tee. Excitedly recommended!

— Steven Ritter 

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