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GRAMOPHONE (06/2021)
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Reviewer: David Vickers

Some sort of theme, concept or imaginative angle often yields the most rewarding outcomes for Handel aria recitals. William Towers has sung a fair number of these roles on stage, and his booklet note explains that he waited to record an album until ‘I had performed a significant number of his operas, and to choose repertoire … I had fully lived with’. Fair enough – although it is also true that everything here requires nothing more than strings and continuo (occasionally with oboes and bassoon), and most choices are well-worn favourites: Serse’s ‘Ombra mai fù’, Rinaldo’s ‘Cara sposa’, Bertarido’s ‘Dove sei’ (bizarrely without its introductory accompagnato but featuring beautiful vocal embellishments), Radamisto’s ‘Ombra cara’ and a contrasting pair of favourites from Giulio Cesare.

Other choices are away from the beaten track. Poro’s ‘Se possono tanto due luci vezzose’ is sung elegantly over sympathetically shaded strings. Towers’s quick passages are admirably sure-footed in ‘Cielo! Se tu il consenti’ (not an obvious extract from Orlando), and there is limpid pathos in Radamisto’s ‘Qual nave smarrita’. Ottone’s intimate ‘Tacerò, purchè fedele’ is sweetly devoted, accompanied by just cello and theorbo. The joyful ‘Dopo l’orrore’ for the title-hero in Ottone (not the same one) brings proceedings to a fitting close.

The Armonico Consort field a very small band of nine players, comprising single violins, viola and cello (and no double bass). Broader sonorities and firmer string bass lines would have been beneficial in the introduction to Cesare’s ‘Dall’ondoso periglio’, which lacks evocative sway and depth of emotional feeling when played by just a string quartet (Towers’s messa di voce at the transition into ‘Aure, deh, per pietà’ is very nicely done), and the contrapuntal string parts in ‘Cara sposa’ really need a double bass. Quick music comes across more convincingly, such as the polished liveliness of ‘Al lampo dell’armi’. Nevertheless, the chamber ensemble play with lyricism and a fine sense of style, and harpsichordist Christopher Monks directs with sensitivity for natural pacing and moods – not that the inadequate booklet reveals anything about dramatic contexts.

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