Christopher Purves / Arcangelo / Jonathan Cohen

Handel's Finest Arias for Base Voice

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There's no shortage of Handel aria recitals these days, especially in Britain, but this one by bass baritone Christopher Purves stands out from the crowd in several respects. First of all, it is rare in collecting arias for bass voice, which was, in Handel's time as it was later on, generally associated with a few fixed and generally negative character types (tyrants, rogues, repressive patriarchs). Second, it's a very pleasantly varied collection of tunes, including displays of brilliant passagework, out-of-the-norm writing in service of characterization (Fra l'ombre e gl'orrori, from Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, track 4), and high climactic drama (the big, three-part Revenge, Timotheus cries, from Alexander's Feast, track 19, is a familiar example). Finally, Purves unearths some rarely heard pieces and programs them intelligently. When did anyone last year anything from Muzio Scevola, or Riccardo Primo, rè d'Inghilterra, which must have pleased London audiences in 1727 despite its Italian-language text. Purves does not have the biggest voice in the bass baritone universe, and there could be a bit more sound in the very low notes. But the dimensions of the music are right for the period. He's pleasingly accurate in the passagework, and he's a real actor who makes these potentially stilted characters come alive. Listeners will want to hear Purves in a small production of one of these operas after hearing this album, preferably accompanied by the strong historical-instrument group Arcangelo under Jonathan Cohen, as he is here.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Rinaldo, HWV 7a
1 4:49
Acis and Galatea, HWV 49a
2 1:20
3 3:12
Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, HWV 72
4 6:58
L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, HWV 55
5 0:11
6 2:33
La Resurrezione, HWV 47
7 1:09
8 4:14
Deborah, HWV 51
9 2:30
Belshazzar, HWV 61
10 3:54
Orlando, HWV 31
11 1:11
12 4:35
Theodora, HWV 68
13 3:55
Muzio Scevola, HWV 13
14 3:23
Agrippina, HWV 6
15 1:45
Riccardo Primo, Re d'Inghilterra, HWV 23
16 3:12
Apollo e Dafne, HWV 122
17 2:49
18 7:27
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75
19 7:54
Semele, HWV 58
20 3:40
blue highlight denotes track pick