RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR
‘The continuo is inventive without fussiness, while the instrumental obbligatos vie with the singers in eloquence and virtuosity’
Richard Wigmore applauds an outstanding recording of Handel’s sumptuous sacred oratorio
La Resurrezione with an array of expert Handelians under the direction of Harry Bicket
Handel La Resurrezione, HWV47 Sophie Bevan, Lucy Crowe sops Iestyn Davies counterten Hugo Hymas ten Ashley Riches bass The English Concert / Harry Bicket Linn F b CKD675 (117’ • DDD • T/t)
Amid a string of triumphs from Handel’s glittering Roman sojourns, none rivalled the sacred oratorio La Resurrezione di Nostro Signor Gesù Cristo in sheer opulence. Money was no object when the fabulously wealthy Marquis Francesco Maria Ruspoli financed performances before a packed audience in his Roman palazzo on Easter Sunday 1708. Sacred and profane blurred as he turned the hall into a theatre-cum-church draped with crimson, scarlet and yellow hangings in damask and velvet. In a gesture of one-upmanship to his rival cultural patrons Pamphilj and Ottoboni, Ruspoli even commissioned special music stands painted with his and his wife’s coats of arms. Corelli, no less, led an elite orchestra based on 36 strings, the largest forces Handel had yet worked with. Pope Clement XI had banned not only opera but also the participation of women in public performances. Unfazed, Ruspoli and Handel assigned the role of Maria Maddalena (Magdalene) to the versatile soprano Margherita Durastanti. After a papal rap on the knuckles, she seems to have been replaced by a castrato for the second performance. So much for moral values in 18th-century Rome.
Loosely based on the Gospels’ Resurrection narratives, La Resurrezione is opera by other means. In the opening scene a coloratura Angel, proclaiming Christ’s victory, spars with Lucifer, who brags and rants like a pantomime villain. The odd reference to Greek myth, as when Lucifer summons the dread powers of Hades, would not have bothered the Roman cognoscenti one iota. Matching the sumptuous setting, the 23-year-old Handel pulled out all the stops in his most ambitious and lavishly scored work to date. The invention is bold and colourful, sometimes with an inspired eccentricity. Novel instrumental effects abound. Mary Magdalene’s ‘sleep’ aria ‘Ferma l’ali’ is sensuously scored for recorders and muted violins over sustained bass pedals,
16 GRAMOPHONE GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2022
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