Even fans of English soprano Emma Kirkby may be surprised to find her tackling the muscular Italian-language music of the young Handel, which is mostly the province of big operatic voices. This recording offers four of the hundred or more Italian cantatas Handel wrote -- almost mini-operas with a single character who pours out her heart about, more often than not, love gone bad in a series of recitatives, accompanied recitatives, and arias. There is a Concerto a quattro in D major as an intermezzo, with polyphonic textures that offer a nice contrast to all the chordal accompaniments. Only the final cantata, Agrippina condotta a morire, HWV 110 (Agrippina Led to Her Death), has been much sung, and in the fiery, expansive parts of this work (try "Orrida, oscura," track 16), depicting the growing realization of Agrippina the Younger that her son, Nero, is going to do her in (bear in mind while listening that she herself may well have poisoned Claudius), listeners may wish for more power. The more intimate cantatas on the first part of the program fare very well, however. Kirkby's delicate ornaments in the arias of Notte placida e cheta, HWV 142 (Placid and Calm Night, composed in 1707), draw the listener into this subtle little pastoral lament, which isn't much heard even among confirmed Handelians. The historical-instrument London Baroque provides perfectly controlled, low-key support throughout. The bottom line is that Kirkby's many fans will appreciate this new demonstration of her talents, and even lovers of the Baroque aria may find hers a valuable alternative perspective. Booklet notes are in English, French, and German, but only the anglophones get translations of the Italian cantata texts.
Händel in Italy Review
by James Manheim