United States G. H. Handel, Arias and Love Duets: Daniel Taylor (conductor, countertenor), Deborah York (soprano), The Theatre of Early Music, Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, 15.11.2011 (SSM)
Cynthia Roberts, Violin
Edwin Huizinga, Violin
David Miller, Viola
Amanda Keesmaat, Cello
Reuven Rothman, Bass
Eric Milnes, Harpsichord
David Jacques, Lute (Baroque guitar)
Passacaglia for Violin and Viola, from Suite No. 7 in G Minor, HWV 432
Scherzano sul tuo volto, from Rinaldo
Cara sposa, from Rinaldo
Lascia eh’io pianga, from Rinaldo
Bel piacere, from Rinaldo
Se il cor ti perde, from Tolomeo
Overture to Giulio Cesare
Tu la mia stella sei, from Giulio Cesare
Dove sei, from Rodelinda
Se pieta di me non senti, from Giulio Cesare
Sinfonia, from Giulio Cesare
Domero la tua fierezza, from Giulio Cesare
Io t’abbraccio, from Rodelinda
While doing some basic research on the arias performed here, I thought that the roles and voice ranges did not seem to coincide. My problem was that I was confusing Handel’s Rodelinda with Rinaldo. This mistake is not difficult to make since there are also operas written by Handel named Radamisto, Rodrigo and Riccardo Primo. (I won’t go into the “A”s.) Depending on whether the 1711 or 1731 version of Rinaldo is performed, various arias are included or not. It is not uncommon to see the role of Rinaldo played by a soprano, or a contralto playing Bertario in Rodelinda. To add to the confusion, at this performance the arias were not sung in strict program order.
These problems might bother a reviewer, but all the listener heard was glorious singing, supported by a committed group of instrumentalists. Cynthia Roberts was superb in the role of first violinist, playing with flare and with an awesome technique. The other instrumentalists were also right on with every note, including David Jacques who played the Baroque guitar and not the lute as stated in the program.
Although the program notes indicated that the opening work, a “Passacaglia” from Handel’s seventh suite for keyboard, was a late nineteenth-century transcription for violin and viola by John Halvorsen, this was not the piece played here. Halvorsen’s score is filled with notations on how to play each note; aside from a metronome marking and tempis described as molto energico, allegro con fuoco and più mosso, for example, there are spicattis, ponticelli and flautati. The urtext of Handel’s score has no markings at all. I’m not sure what the group was playing, but it was far closer to what Handel wrote than to Halverson’s transcription.
The duet that followed, “Scherzano sul tuo volto” from Rinaldo, had the two singers’ voices intertwining and crisscrossing each other in a vocal range that made one question who was the fiancée and who the fiancé. Later in the concert we heard Daniel Taylor in full voice, but here he clearly held back, letting Deborah York’s voice dominate the duet.
Similarly, “Cara Sposa,” the best known piece on this program, was touchingly sung by Mr. Taylor. He has an angelic demeanor which well suits songs of lamentation, and he performed this one effortlessly. “Bel Piacere,” sung by Ms. York, uses a technique common to Vivaldi: after a brief opening ritornello, the first violin doubles the soloist note for note, stopping only for the instrumental ritornellos. The effect is quite moving, with the violin creating a birdsong-like accompaniment to the singer’s voice. “Se il cor ti perde,” a duet from Handel’s Tolemeo, is very similar in style to “Schezano sul tuo volo.” Written in the key of F-sharp minor, both duets weave the voices in, out and around each other: the harmonizing is ethereal and almost other-worldly.
The second half of the program opened with the overture to Giulio Cesare, which is an almost perfect example of a true Lullian overture. The only clue that it’s by Handel is the length of the fugal middle theme: Lully motifs are always just a few notes, while Handel’s run over several measures. Ms. Roberts and her group put so much spirit into their performance that it seemed as if a full orchestra was on stage. “Tu la mia stella sei” followed, a difficult aria that York tossed off with ease, reaching up to the highest vocal register without undue strain or thinning out.
The group returned to Rodelinda and a more familiar aria performed by Daniel Taylor: “Dove sei,” a lament made poignantly touching by Taylor’s attention to each word and meaningful but not overly-emotional gestures. This led into a wonderful and difficult aria, “Se pieta di me non senti” from Giulio Cesare. Built on a chromatically descending triplet played repeatedly through the entire piece, with Ms. York’s impassioned voice doubled or echoed by the strings, this was certainly the most moving aria in the concert, and the considerable applause that followed was appropriately long.
Taylor then took the stage and graciously thanked the New York audience for giving him the opportunity to play in Carnegie Hall. It was thrilling to him, but even more so to his mother, who was in the audience. He stated that his natural voice was that of a baritone and that he was able to use this range in this next aria, “Domero la tua fierezza.” Loosening his ponytail as he took on the role of the mad Tolomeo, he tackled this wild aria with all its jumping notes and wide intervals. If there was any question whether this angelic countertenor could belt out dramatic arias, it was answered here. His exaggerated gestures and emphatic holding of the low notes was tremendous fun after so many rueful songs.
Taylor dedicated the final duet from Rodelinda, “Io t’abbraccio,” to a deceased friend. Appreciative applause continued until the ensemble returned to do an encore of their first duet “Scherzano sul tuo volto.”