Most of the Handel pieces on this release are "hidden" in that if you go to the editions of the operas from which they are taken, you won't find them. Many of them were "insertion arias," written for revivals of Handel operas where the new singers wanted something tailor made. Two were written for insertion into the opera of someone else, namely Alessandro Scarlatti, and there are several miscellaneous rarities and rather odd instrumental pieces for interludes. It might sound like an excursion into the dustier corners of the Handel repertory on the part of the historical-instrument group Il Complesso Barocco and their conductor Alan Curtis, who has been at this kind of thing since most of the current crop of Baroque opera conductors were toddlers and who presumably has earned the right to do what he wants. No fewer than nine of the pieces are claimed to be world premieres. Yet this music is generally first-rate. It is by its very nature difficult, even more so than usual for Handel, for the insertion arias were expressly written for vocalists with formidable talent. On top of that, Swedish mezzo soprano Ann Hallenberg has to contend with music in a variety of ranges. Fortunately, her voice is ideal for the project, and she emerges as the star of the show; Curtis' conducting is a bit mannered. Hallenberg combines agility at the top of her range with a rich, powerful sound in the lower phases, and the real rewards come in a piece like "Vieni, o caro, che senza il tuo core," written for Rinaldo, HWV 7, where she gets to make full use of each register. You might buy this album just to hear Hallenberg in fine form, or to hear some Handel that nobody else has recorded; either of those is reason enough.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim