The chamber cantata flourished in Italy as a counterpart to public opera and oratorio, cultivated by aristocratic patrons for their personal enjoyment. Perhaps because of its essentially private origins, this pervasive Baroque form remains little known today. During his years in Italy (1706-1710), George Frideric Handel composed nearly 100 cantatas for a series of important patrons, but they have tended to be passed over in favor of his larger operas, oratorios, concertos and orchestral suites. The plan of La Risonanza to perform and record all of the cantatas with instrumental accompaniment (about one-third of the total) is therefore of signal importance for all music lovers, as it will bring this extraordinarily beautiful music once again to life (2006-2009).
The recording speaks for itself, and it is only a matter of months before it shares the Olympus of the Goldberg with Leonhardt, Koopman, and Hantaï. This is so because, difficult as it may seem, Bonizzoni manages to offer a new perspective which avoids all straining after effects and extravagance to present a magical, intelligent, subtle, solid, coherent, and current version.
Handel's Imeneo, an opera almost contemporaneous with Messiah, has received few performances ever since Messiah librettist Charles Jennens slammed it as "the worst of all Handel's compositions" while still allowing that it contained some good tunes. The work exists in two versions; Handel attempted to rescue the opera that bombed in its London premiere by cutting arias and inserting new material, some of it borrowed from other works. It is this second version, premiered in Dublin, that is recorded here. Conductor Fabio Biondi extols it in his notes, but the earlier version also has its virtues, including a more coherent plotline involving the Greek maiden Rosmene, who has to pick either her true love Tirinto or her rescuer Imeneo (Hymen, the god of love on whose story the libretto is based).
An extraordinary enterprise … As an experience of the sounds and styles of French organ culture this boxed set, it seems to me, is indispensable … the body of music is mostly, here, not created but simply made alive by the apt choice of instruments … it is a resource to which to return with delight.
Jephtha (1752) was George Frederick Handel's final oratorio, and it was composed during a period of incipient blindness and declining health. Yet the composer's artistic powers were undiminished in this dramatization of the Biblical story, for the arias and choruses are as memorable as any from Handel's earlier works in the genre, including Messiah and Israel in Egypt. This 2008 recording by Fabio Biondi, the Collegium Vocale Ghent, and the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra is a brilliant period presentation, and the spry rhythms, lean counterpoint, clear textures, and distinctive colors of original instruments combine to make this an especially enjoyable performance of a fairly neglected masterpiece.