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2005 Early Music CD Awards

2005 Best Italian Baroque Opera CD

Handel. Rodelinda, Regina de'Longobardi. (HWV 19, London 1725). DG Archiv 00289 477 539-1 (3 CDs, May 2005). Review by Philippe Gelinaud. Alan Curtis, Il Complesso Barocco. Rodelinda: Simone Kermes, soprano; Bertarido: Marijana Mijanovic, mezzo-soprano; Eduige: Sonia Prina, contralto; Unulfo: Marie-Nicole Lemieux, mezzo-soprano; Grimoaldo: Steve Davislim, tenor; Garibaldo: Vito Priante, bass. US | UK | DE | FR | CA | JP

This is clearly the finest commercial Rodelinda recording to date, and indeed the finest recording of any of Handel's "Big Three" operas for the Royal Academy of Music -- Giulio Cesare, Tamerlano and Rodelinda. Alan Curtis has long been in the forefront of Handel opera performance and scholarship. His ground-breaking, 1978 recording of Admeto still holds up well, despite vastly improved standards in early music performance over the past 30 years. Recent Curtis CDs that merit special acclaim are his superlative recording of Domenico Scarlatti cantatas, duets and harpsichord pieces, his 2004 recording of Handel's Lotario, which was spoiled by the BMG bean counters who required unpleasant cuts to force it onto two CDs, and his 2005 recording of the first version of Radamisto, the runner-up in this award category.

Fortunately, Rodelinda was recorded by DG, whose engineering personnel are among the finest in the industry. They have delivered a near perfect studio recording. It includes the first recordings of two of Handel's five major changes for the second version -- a duet immediately before the final coro, and a completely different, substitute aria for Unulfo to the original words ("Sono i colpi della sorte"), near the end of Act I. Neither is in the HG edition. The original version of Unulfo's aria for Pacini is dramatic and familiar, but I agree with Curtis that the less demanding and lower pitched replacement in C minor for Baldi is not musically inferior, as suggested by Dean & Knapp. It actually suits the situation better. (The original version of the aria is included in an appendix at the end of the third CD.) Still unrecorded is the substitute aria for Rodelinda that is in the HG edition and bears a striking resemblance to "Se pietàquot;.

My only reservations are Screaming Simone's cadenzas up to a high sustained note. However, her singing otherwise is much more satisfying that that of most other sopranos known for similarly obnoxious cadenzas. I disagree with complaints about Mariana Mijanovic posted on the Handel-l, perhaps by countertenor enthusiasts. Indeed, this may be Mijanovic's finest recorded performance to date. Both Sonia Prina and Marie-Nicole Lemieux are strong in the lower register in the secondary but demanding roles of Eduige and Unulfo. The booklet includes a complete and updated version of the excellent translation for Decca.

2005 Best French Baroque Opera CD

Jean-Baptiste Lully. Isis (1677). Accord 4768048 (3 CDs, November 2005). [Details] [Review of live performance] Hugo Reyne, La Simphonie du Marais. Io, who becomes Isis: Françoise Masset, soprano; La Renommée, Iris & Hébé: Isabelle Desrochers, soprano; Calliope, Mycène & Syrinx: Valérie Gabail, soprano; Junon: Guillemette Laurens, mezzo-soprano; Apollon, Pirante, 1er Berger & Erinnis: Robert Getchell, tenor; Mercure & 2d Berger: Howard Crook, tenor; Hierax & Pan: Bertrand Chuberre, bass; Jupiter: Bernard Deletré, bass; Neptune & Argus: Renaud Delaigue, bass. Vol. 7 in Accord's series "Lully ou le Musicien du Soleil". UK | DE | FR | CA | JP

This is perhaps the most enjoyable Lully recording to date, a superb performance of one of Lully's finest operas. The well-known frost scene "avec une voix tremblante" at the beginning of Act III was the model for the frost scene in Purcell's King Arthur. The Entrée des Forgerons, with rhythmic anvil accompaniment which follows immediately as the next test for Io, is unique to my knowledge. Another seeming influence on Purcell is Fame's trumpet tune in the Prologue, which sounds like "I come to sing great Zempoalla's story" in The Indian Queen. Hugo Reyne reconstructed the original version from the 1719 score, the 1677 libretto, and a set of 10 separate parts published in 1677. The booklet includes an excellent English translation by John Tyler Tuttle.

2005 Best Baroque Oratorio CD

Handel. Israel in Babylon (Pasticcio compiled by Edward Toms in 1764, with instrumental works transformed into arias.) K617 172 (2 CDs, June 2005). Joachim Fontaine, Kantorei Saarlouis, Ensemble Una Volta. Zorobabel: Joseph Cornwell, tenor; Pharez: Julia Gooding, soprano; Israelite: Sabine von Blohn, soprano; Israelite: Jonathan Peter Kenny, countertenor; Salathiel: Ekkehard Abele, bass; Darius: Adolph Seidel, bass. UK | FR | DE | JP

This heretofore little-known pasticcio was the most pleasant surprise of 2005. It has little in common with the pasticcio oratorios compiled by Smith. The libretto is closer to a serenata libretto than, for example, to Israel in Egypt, to which this work bears little resemblance. The characters debate which is most powerful -- the king, wine, or women, and ultimately decide in favor of truth. Toms reorchestrated Handel much as Mozart did, adding horns, clarinets and bassoons. One sinfonia was reduced to harmoniemusik for clarinets and horns only. Familiar pieces utilized include "Da tempeste" from Guilio Cesare, the Siciliana from Ottone, the Royal Fireworks music -- now a chorus with fifes and drums, the Pifa from Messiah as a duet, and "Ombra mai fùquot;. It is an excellent performance and recording that I highly recommend.

2005 Best Classical Opera CD

Salieri. La Grotta di Trofonio (1785). Ambroisie AMB 9986 (2 CDs, November 2005). Includes a DVD with scenes from the opera. Christophe Rousset, Les Talens Lyriques, Choeur de L'Opéra de Lausanne. Notes by Rousset (pdf). Dori: Marie Arnet, soprano; Ofelia: Raffaella Milanesi, soprano; Trofonio: Carlo Lepore, bass; Artemidoro: Nikolaï Schukoff, tenor; Aristone: Olivier Lallouette, baritone; Plistene: Tobias Rapp, tenor. US | UK | DE | FR | CA | JP

This was a very pleasant surprise. The buffo libretto bears some resemblance to Così fan tutte, as two pairs of lovers experience personality reversals upon entering and leaving Trofonio's grotto. Overall, Salieri's music is stylistically closer to Gluck, his teacher, than Mozart. The opera clearly deserved to be rescued from obscurity. (I haven't watched the DVD, as I don't own a DVD player and have no intention of getting one.)

While the booklet contains a complete libretto with English and French translations, the texts are virtually unreadable. They are set in extremely small type and printed over a gray-scale background image based on the booklet cover. I wonder if there might be grounds for complaint to the EU about printed materials like this set in type too small to work in reading machines for the blind. The solution of course would be to post the texts online, as Glossa has done. Unfortunately, Ambroisie's website, now apparently defunct, was even more grossly incompetent and unusable than their wretched CD booklets.

2005 Best Classical Oratorio CD

Josef Mysliveček (1737-1781). La Passione di Nostro Signore Gesù Cristo (Florence or Bologna 1773-77). Capriccio 71 025/26 (2 CDs, February 2005). Details. Christoph Spering, Das Neue Orchester, Chorus Musicus Köln, Mülheimer Kantorei. Maddalena: Sophie Karthäuser, soprano; Pietro: Jörg Waschinski, sopranist; Giovanni: Yvonne Berg, mezzo-soprano; Giuseppe: Andreas Karasiak, tenor. US | UK | DE | FR | CA | JP

Mysliveček composed more than 30 operas and oratorios, mostly on libretti by Metastasio, and was considered by many to be the greatest opera composer immediately before Mozart, who was an admirer of his work. This is an exceptional recording of a great oratorio comparable to the best works of contemporary composers such as Josef Haydn and Johann Christian Bach, although the contrapuntal choruses look back to earlier styles. The arias are mainly in the dal segno form, with shortened repeats, and several have dramatic contrasts in tempo within the A section or between A and B sections. It was favorably reviewed in Early Music Review 107:43 (June 2005) by Brian Clark.

2005 Best Early Keyboard Recording

Domenico Scarlatti. Le Pianoforte de Maria Barbara. Assai 222612 (1 CD 2004). Reissued on Ambronay AMY002 (October 2005) as Una Nova Inventione per Maria Barbara. Aline Zylberajch, fortepiano by Denzil Wraight after Cristofori-Ferrini. UK | FR | DE | JP

This superb CD is one of the best recordings to date of a fortepiano. It received glowing reviews after the initial release on Assai, but the label folded before sufficient disks could be pressed to distribute to consumers. Fortunately, the Ambronay Festival came to the rescue and reissued the CD on their new record label.

Until recently, I owned only one recording of a copy of a Cristofori piano and assumed, incorrectly it turns out, that its undistinguished sound could be attributed in part to the design of the instrument. In fact, the design of the Cristofori piano may give it fundamental sonic advantages over later fortepiano designs. (See Denzil Wraight's website for details.) Moreover, there are fewer possibilities for performers to fiddle with registration, as only one alternative stop -- una corda -- is available, and registration may not be changed on the fly.

I have not yet had a chance for track-by-track, comparative listening to this CD alongside the Capriccio recording of Scarlatti sonatas by Linda Nicholson on the same piano. It's also a fine performance and recording, and may be added to the 2004 awards.

Before hearing these disks, I had always preferred so-so harpsichord performances of Scarlatti to any on fortepianos. However, these Cristofori piano recordings by two masters of the instrument are as interesting and enjoyable as any on harpsichord. Furthermore, for the first time I have heard a piano that I would like to find a way to squeeze into my house.

Archive 2007 Early Music CD Awards 2006 Early Music CD Awards 2004 Early Music CD Awards

Keywords: Récompenses classiques disques grand prix musique

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