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GRAMOPHONE (07/2021)
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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp 

Last year Kate Lindsey, Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo brought together Handel, Haydn and Alessandro Scarlatti in a fascinating exploration of the broken happiness of Ariadne (2/20), an intelligent and meaningful approach to programming they repeat here with a new recital devoted to the psychopathic whims of the Emperor Nero.

As with ‘Arianna’, it ties into Lindsey’s recent stage experiences, yet goes beyond simply recycling music she already knows. True, there are extracts from Poppea: Nero swooning disturbingly with his court poet as they revel in Seneca’s death (Andrew Staples is a suitably oily Lucan here); and the inevitable ‘Pur ti miro!’. But Lindsey also includes ‘Addio Roma!’, empress Octavia’s contemplation of exile, by turns noble and furious.

As for Agrippina, there is nothing from the opera; this, after all, is a cantata-based programme with single strings, and Lindsey finds a superb substitute in Handel’s earlier study of the violently conflicting emotions of Nero’s mother after being condemned to death by her own son. Lindsey’s performance is a dramatic tour de force, riding the roller coaster through the slings and arrows of anger, Agrippina’s helpless love for her own offspring, resignation and defiant scorn. Her command of Handel’s powerful recitatives combines stirring dramatic realism with musical fluidity, and she finds powerful characterisations for each aria, showing exceptional expressive agility as the emotional tension causes the structure to fracture towards the end.

Equally impressive is the way the recital looks beyond the well-known pieces and finds real gems. Bartolomeo Monari’s cantata draws a sympathetic picture of the dying Poppea lamenting for herself and her unborn son, and is claimed as a world premiere recording, as is Scarlatti’s La morte di Nerone, showing Nero in his own final moments, haunted by his victims. And in Scarlatti’s La Nerone, an almost frighteningly magnificent self-glorification in villainy, there could hardly be a better opener to the programme.

All this compelling music, so vitally performed by Lindsey as she ranges fearlessly from raging outburst to intimate confession, exploring countless shades of colour and dynamic along the way, and all so perfectly accompanied by Arcangelo, is a model of what a recital album can be.

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