THEORBIST and director Christina Pluhar’s visionary 2014 recording with her period ensemble L’Arpeggiata – Music for a While – captured the imagination with its contemporary arrangements of and improvisations upon the 17th Century music of England’s renowned Mr Henry Purcell.
Now turning their attention to German composer, and naturalised ‘Brit’, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), L’Arpegiatta and guests interpret an array of works in Händel Goes Wild – most especially the operatic arias, here eloquently conveyed by countertenor Valer Sabadus and soprano Nuria Rial. The album title references the composer’s reputed, fiery personality more than this alternative musical approach which is sophisticated, invigorating, yet respectful. But that said, Pluhar boldly infuses both the familiar and less well-known with an ingenious mix of jazz, folk, pop and Indian flavours – all part of the attraction, discovering where in the world GFH will be taken next; though, undoubtedly and intentionally, it’s also the recognisable genius of the baroque master that shines out.
This lavish, 76-minute production is heralded by Gianluigi Trovesi’s bluesy, rubato clarinet and Francesco Turrisi’s jazz-inflected piano improv – a sign that the Sinfonia from Act 3 of Alcina has found a distinctly different direction, its classical strings ultimately augmented by frenetic, accelerando, Russian dance rhythms. From the same opera, the luscious countertenor, clarinet and cornetto strains of Verdi prati are a balm to the soul, as is Mi lusinga il dolce affetto (one of a number of readings which, for balance, don’t automatically seek an alternative path); and Brazilian percussion encircles glorious Venti, turbine (from Rinaldo). Popular Where’er You Walk (from Semele) pleasantly wrong-foots as Nuria Rial’s clear annunciation is accompanied by a bright, childlike clarinet motif with Latinesque piano triplets; and its operatic partner O sleep, why dost they leave me becomes a gentle, musical-box lullaby.
An impressive and ebullient improvisation, Canario, dances to rhythmic baroque guitar, inviting splendid individual instrumental soloing (including ’60s Hammond organ) and a wonderfully vitalising konnakol and percussion episode, whilst aria Pena tiranna (from Amidigi di Gaula) demonstrates still further how effectively Handel can be interpreted through limpid piano with subtle bass-and-cymbal momentum. Unexpectedly, the spirited jazz abandon of Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (from Solomon) can seem a little disjointed – perhaps too obvious a candidate for this project. Nevertheless, the vast majority of these fifteen selections gel superbly – and, as always with such considered and well-executed projects, it’s not impossible to imagine George Frideric enthusiastically experimenting with these textures and genres, had they been available to him. Indeed, how I wish he might have experienced these sublime theorbo and piano improvisations on Lascia ch’io pianga.
Released on 1 September 2017, Händel Goes Wild is available in physical and digital formats from Erato/Warner Music through a variety of outlets.
Valer Sabadus countertenor
Nuria Rial soprano
Doron David Sherwin cornetto
Judith Steenbrink baroque violin
Leila Schayegh baroque violin
Catherine Aglibut baroque violin
Veronika Skuplik baroque violin
Dáša Valentová baroque viola
Rodney Prada viola da gamba
Felix Knecht baroque cello
Josep María Martí Duran theorbo, baroque guitar
Eero Palviainen archlute, baroque guitar
Haru Kitamika harpsichord, organ
Gianluigi Trovesi clarinet
Francesco Turrisi piano, organ
Boris Schmidt double bass
David Mayoral percussion
Sergey Saprichev percussion
Christina Pluhar theorbo, direction
Erato/Warner Music (2017)