The athletic Italian- (and Latin-) language arias of the young Handel, almost unknown to general audiences a few decades ago, have become almost a rite of passage for young sopranos, so it's no surprise to see the highly praised soprano Julia Lezhneva come along with a collection of them for her second solo album. It's an attractive set showing that Lezhneva knows how to play to her strengths. There are just enough of the big showpieces to prove that she can acquit herself fine in them (and indeed she has done the likes of Vivaldi very well in the past), but the majority of the program is devoted to displaying her rather uncanny silvery sound.
For fans of Il Giardino Armonico's flamboyant flourishes and exuberant expressiveness, it's like having all your birthdays at once, being presented with this great Warner Classics 11 CD set. My own feeling is that this "free" approach to Baroque music is at its best when applied to the theatrical music of disc 8 or the seventeenth century Italian music on disc 1. The showmanship and playfulness is an absolute joy in many of those pieces.
Emotions ruffle the elegant surface of these instrumental suites by Georg Muffat - caprice, melancholy, martial fervor, amorous longing - and like ripples on a moonlit pond, they shimmer and are gone. They're only ripple deep, these musical evocations, easily recognized but not sustained. Even the titles are stylized - "Indissoluble Friendship", "Noble Youth", Chaconne of the "Lucky Stars", "Quis Hic?".. Who's There? Who indeed? The dancing master, of course! The five suites are composed of the familiar courtly dances of the 17th Century: minuets, bourees, gigues, sarabandes, gavottes, all so exquisitely graceful that one can easily visualize the dancers in their brocades and lace.
It's not exactly made clear in the packaging and notes, but this appears to be the first item in what would seem to be a massive series leading up to the bicentennial of Haydn's birth in 2032. How will music be acquired in 2032? Will it be directly transferred to the brain from the neurocloud? Be that as it may, the historical-instrument group Il Giardino Armonico and its leader Giovanni Antonini make one curious to hear what's coming down the pike. The plan is to place Haydn in a "thematic dialogue with other composers."