Classical CD Reviews

Handel’s Finest Arias for Bass Voice – Christopher Purves, bass/ Arcangelo/ Jonathan Cohen – Hyperion

Think bass voice boring? Listen to this.

Published on June 12, 2013

Handel’s Finest Arias for Bass Voice – Christopher Purves, bass/ Arcangelo/ Jonathan Cohen – Hyperion CDA67842, 70:54 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****1/2:

If you thought that Handel’s best arias were always written for sopranos, think again. This collection, with its apt title, really does live up to the name, for these are some of the best loved and best, period, pieces that ever came from the composer’s hand. Early to late, Italian to English, a more comprehensive smorgasbord of bass works simply cannot be imagined. Operas, English classical drama, Biblical oratorios, literary odes and a masque are all represented here, showing the extreme genius of a composer whose brilliance shown in many genres and particularly where solid dramatic tension and overbearing joyousness is required. There are some pieces here not heard too often, like Apollo’s final aria from the early cantata Apollo e Dafne and “Volate più dei venti,” from the pasticcio Muzio Scevola, but by and large recognition is the order of the day in terms of the stage works of all stripes.

Purvis, whose credits include playing Wozzeck, Beckmesser, and Falstaff, as well as many other operatic and non-operatic performances, actually lists himself as a baritone on his website, and to tell the truth there are some moments in these pieces where he lands on some particularly nasty low notes and seems unable to sustain them completely, hence his listing as a bass on the back of this CD is perhaps not entirely apropos. Then again, his singing radiates a spectrum of color and infinite gradations of feeling no matter which set of emotions he happens to be operating in, and the delicacy of his linear runs and fleetness of vocal dexterity is quite amazing. Purves has the kind of voice that innately suggests the richest characterizations of a role. Its strength resides in his upper register which is quite powerful, and he possesses an idiomatic and finely-controlled trill.

Accompaniment is provided by the excellent and quite enthusiastic members of Arcangelo, strongly directed by Jonathan Cohen. Hyperion’s sound is wide and enveloping, and their production values state of the art.


Sibilar gl’angui d’Aletto (from Rinaldo)
Fra l’ombre e gl’orrori (from Aci, Galatea e Polifemo)
I rage, I melt, I burn…O ruddier than the cherry (from Acis and Galatea)
L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato: If I give thee honour due
L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato: Mirth, admit me of thy crew
La Resurrezione: Qual’insolita luce
La Resurrezione: Caddi, è ver
Deborah: Tears, such as tender fathers shed
Belshazzar: To pow’r immortal my first thanks are due
Impari ognun da Orlando (from Orlando)
Sorge infausta una procella (from Orlando)
Theodora, HWV 68: Racks, gibbets, sword and fire
Muzio Scevola, HWV13: Volate più dei venti
Vieni, o cara (from Agrippina)
Nel mondo e nell’abisso (from Riccardo Primo)
Mie piante, correte from Apollo e Dafne, HWV 12Apollo e Dafne: Cara pianta
Alexander’s Feast: Revenge, revenge, Timotheus cries
Semele: Leave me, loathsome light

—Steven Ritter

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