Al Stewart had found his voice on Past, Present & Future and found his sound on Modern Times. He then perfected it all on 1976’s Year of the Cat, arguably his masterpiece.
Handel's Giove in Argo (Jupiter in Argos) is bottom-of-the-barrel stuff, a pastiche (or, in the parlance of the time, pasticcio) of numbers from earlier operas stitched together into a mythological-pastoral plot that is absurd even by the standards of Baroque opera. It is a notable sign of the success of the Baroque opera revival that this has appeared on a semi-major label, Virgin Classics. The pieces were all from operas that were fairly recent at the time, and it's possible that the work was intended as a kind of greatest-hits reprise, but London audiences did not bite; the opera was long thought to be lost, and it had its modern premiere only in 2006, with newly written recitatives.
The Florentine Francesco Bartolomeo Conti (1682-1732) was the finest theorbo player in early 18th-century Europe, and spent almost his entire career at the Habsburg court in Vienna. He composed sacred and secular vocal works special enough to warrant the attention of both Bach and Handel. Conti's oratorio David, a setting of a dramatic libretto by Apostolo Zeno, was first performed at Vienna in March 1724. The cast of singers included the tenor Francesco Borosini, soon afterwards a principal cast member for Handel in Tamerlano and Rodelinda (Conti's writing for Borosini descends to a low G, hence the decision here to cast baritone Furio Zanasi as Saul). Alan Curtis speculates that Borosini might have shown Conti's score to Handel because Conti's use of the theorbo to portray David playing the harp to soothe the insanely jealous Saul is neatly reflected in Handel's use of solo harp in his oratorio Saul (1738). Conti's difficult obbligato theorbo part in David's 'Quanto mirabile' is entrusted to the safe hands of Jakob Lindberg; the vocal part is sung by Marijana Mijanovic´, whose tuning and phrasing are better here than in her Handel recordings. Furio Zanasi's top register is stretched a notch too much for comfort at times but this never gets in the way of a convincing performance. Simone Kermes is beautifully emotive as Micol, Birgit Christensen's sparkling soprano is impressive, and Sonia Prina sings with exemplary sense of proportion and melodic line.
Fernando is the abandoned first draft of Handel’s opera Sosarme (performed at the King’s Theatre in February 1732)… Curtis’s pacing and shaping of Handel’s music is consistently subtle, astutely rhetorical and firmly connected to the libretto text. Although it might be possible to explore firmer muscularity and create a more vivid sense of surprise in the quicker music, there is something to be said for Curtis’s shrewd reservation of such effects for when it is truly vital for the drama. For instance, Marianna Pizzolato’s powerful arias “Vado al campo” and “Cuor di madre e cuor di moglie” are potently delivered moments of severe agitated passion that are all the more effective for the sweeter elegance that pervades much of this lovely score. The sublime duet “Per le porte” is sung with poetic intimacy by Lawrence Zazzo and Veronica Cangemi. Zazzo sings his elegantly heroic aria “Alle sfere della gloria” with supple clarity. Max Emanuel Cencic is impressive as the reticent Sancio, unwilling to be used as a pawn in his ruthless grandfather Altomaro’s Machiavellian plans to tear the royal family apart. Antonio Abete gives an ideal account of the villain’s arias… Fernando is one of Curtis’s most consistent and pleasing Handel opera recordings. (David Vickers, Gramophone)
Handel wrote Floridante in 1722 for a London audience infatuated with Italian opera. The plot, like that of so many Baroque operas, was taken from ancient history and concerns romantic liaisons thrown into turmoil by political rivalries, in this case between Persia and Tyre. Handel wrote over 50 Italian operas, and it's remarkable that he was consistently able to summon such a high level of inventiveness and inspiration when faced repeatedly with librettos that must have come to look depressingly alike in the conventions of their labyrinthine plots. Handel, however, had strong enough musical and dramatic convictions that he refused to make alterations to the score of Floridante that would have changed the opera's character, after London's Royal Academy of Music informed him that changes in the performing personnel would require him to rewrite the vocal parts. Handel eventually made some adjustments, but stood firm about others – a bold position, considering the relatively low status of composers in the world of opera at the time. After the premiere with a less-than-ideal cast, Handel restored the score to his original intentions and it's that version that's heard on this recording.