We rarely think of Handel the German; though aware of his origins, his English residency and popularity coupled with his evident love of Italian music (he was tempted to live there at one point, and only his aversion to Roman Catholicism kept him back) conspire to portray the man as a writer of buoyant, profound, seriously contented music that always resolves to the positive. But another side, the side that flowed from the deep roots of Hanover, the same vine that produced composers like Telemann, and gave rise to heavier, more existentialist musings so common among the deep German artists of the day, left an indelible mark on Handel also.
You only need to sample this recording of the Nine German Arias to see what I mean. The texts, by Handel’s friend Barthold Heinrich Brockes, a poet of some note, speak of a more contemplative composer, one who delves deeply into the mysteries of God and His creation, the revelation of whom is noticeable in all of nature. These songs are not the barn burning, decorous, virtuoso statements of a full-fledged assault on our sense of amazement (as he could often do), but instead deeply-felt reflections after a philosophy class. All are in da capo form, and all feature a solo accompaniment that those in charge here (probably correctly) have assumed to be a violin. The continuo, while quiet and appropriately behaved, is also nicely colored. Carolyn Sampson sings with great circumspection and understanding of Handel’s intentions.
Every third song is followed by one of Handel’s (supposedly) authentic Oboe Concertos. I say “supposedly”, because, while we know the composer loved the oboe and had to have written a lot of music for it, and while these three do appear to be genuine, we still don’t know for sure. That is little matter, as most people familiar with the composer will know these works. I do have some slight reservations about Alexandra Bellamy’s sound on the period oboe. Generally speaking, I have not been too kind to most period oboists in my reviewing career, though I daresay I think with good reason. Few seem to have mastered the intricacies of this instrument, and even fewer are able to get away from the honking goose syndrome. Bellamy is not quite that bad, and I have certainly heard worse even in this same music, but it still disturbs me because I know that a player like Paul Goodwin can do so much better.
Nonetheless, I would purchase this just for the nine arias, as they form an indispensable part of the Handelian oeuvre, especially when sung as delightfully as here. Arleen Auger recorded these on Berlin Classics, and anything she recorded is worth seeking out (and still can be found, though it is out of print), but otherwise this becomes the only game in town, and a fine one it is. Don’t let my oboe comments put you off too much, as the playing is quite tolerable and nicely done despite my pickiness.
— Steven Ritter