Steven Isserlis and Richard Egarr here assemble all the viola da gamba sonatas written by three composers born in the propitious year of 1685: one each by Handel and Domenico Scarlatti, and three by JS Bach. Isserlis plays them on the gamba’s modern cousin, the cello, and the microphone loves his playing, picking up all the nuances and scampering asides from his soft-spoken instrument which can sometimes get lost in big concert halls. Egarr on harpsichord matches Isserlis’s eloquence and rambunctious energy all the way. The dreamy, airy slow movement of Bach’s Sonata in G minor brings telling use of vibrato as Isserlis circles around Egarr, his playing at once idiomatic and soulful. An extra cellist reinforces the bass line in the Handel and Scarlatti, in which the composers give the harpsichordist only a framework; Egarr’s imaginative realisations ensure that even when Scarlatti is at his most repetitive, he is never dull.
Resplendent in his powdered wig and 18th century garb, Maestro Handel (aka, Director of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, Ivars Taurins) leads Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, a stellar cast of soloists - soprano, Suzie LeBlanc, countertenor Daniel Taylor, tenor Rufus Muller, and baritone Locky Chung - and a mass audience choir made up of more than 1000 Tafelmusik fans as they perform Handel's baroque masterpiece. A Toronto tradition beloved by thousands, Tafelmusik's annual Sing-Along Messiah has become a revered family ritual for many over the past 25 years.
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.
Handel's Imeneo, an opera almost contemporaneous with Messiah, has received few performances ever since Messiah librettist Charles Jennens slammed it as "the worst of all Handel's compositions" while still allowing that it contained some good tunes. The work exists in two versions; Handel attempted to rescue the opera that bombed in its London premiere by cutting arias and inserting new material, some of it borrowed from other works. It is this second version, premiered in Dublin, that is recorded here. Conductor Fabio Biondi extols it in his notes, but the earlier version also has its virtues, including a more coherent plotline involving the Greek maiden Rosmene, who has to pick either her true love Tirinto or her rescuer Imeneo (Hymen, the god of love on whose story the libretto is based).
Alan Curtis continues his exemplary series of Handel operas for Archiv with Ezio, a 1732 work that has received few modern productions. Its initial limited success and failure to generate much interest until the late twentieth century may have to do with its length (over three hours), its preponderance of recitatives, and the composer's reluctance to use the voices together in ensembles, so that the entire opera, until the final chorus, consists of solo singing. Handel's gift for astute psychological insight and distinctive musical characterization is evident throughout the score, and the recitatives, which are necessary for explicating Metastasio's convoluted plot, are not a problem when they are performed with as much vivid dramatic realism as they are here.
L'opera fu composta nel 1712 e andò in scena per la prima volta il 22 novembre dello stesso anno, sotto la direzione del compositore stesso, al Her Majesty's Theatre di Londra. L'accoglienza fu generalmente negativa, probabilmente a causa delle elevate aspettative che il pubblico nutriva in seguito al successo dell'opera Rinaldo. Un commentatore riporta che "la scenografia rappresentava unicamente l'Arcadia, i costumi erano vecchi e l'opera breve". I ruoli di Mirtillo e Silvio furono interpretati dai castrati Valeriano Pellegrini e Valentino Urbani. L'ouverture è in sei movimenti appare eccessivamente ampia per quei tempi: è verosimile pensare che fosse stata scritta come una suite orchestrale distinta dall'opera.