British soprano Carolyn Sampson has long been known as a fine Handel specialist, and anticipation has awaited her recordings of the composer's early Italian cantatas, written in Rome at the end of the 1700s. It's everything that could be desired, and then some. The cantatas had some connection with a short-lived ban on opera in the Papal States, and plenty of muscular singers, female and male, have recorded them as little operatic scenes. Yet that is not quite what they are: they were written for aristocratic homes, not opera houses, and they were chamber music, not opera. Several have a pastoral flavor, with arias that hit Sampson's creamy sweet spot. Sample "Pien di nuovo e bel diletto," from the fairly rare Tra le fiamme, HWV 170, for a taste. Sampson is ideally accompanied in this regard by Robert King and the King's Consort, playing a superb small consort of historical instruments or copies of them; the group is quiet but not at all inexpressive, and the entire performance has the feeling of something Handel himself might have heard. Of course, when things get more athletic and operatic in the final Agrippina condotta a morire, HWV 110, Sampson and King shift into a higher gear, and it's easy to imagine as a concert finale in a Roman house. The Vivat label's sound from the Alpheton studio in New Maltings is ideal, and the whole package is highly recommended, even for those who feel their collections already have a strong complement of Sampson.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Armida abbandonata HWV 105|
|Tra le fiamme, HWV 170|
|Figlio d'alte speranze, HWV 113|
|Agrippina condotta a morire HWV 110|