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A,erican Record Guide: (09/2018) 
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Reviewer: John W. Barker

There are so many programs made now of Handel arias, we have to have subdivisions: arias written for specific singers, arias for different voice categories. There are plenty for sopranos, contraltos, and castratos, but fewer for tenors and especially basses. Audiences of Handel’s day favored high voices, and Handel was unusual in sometimes giving important roles to tenors. Basses were usually reserved for villains or for secondary characters, like helpless fathers.


Accordingly, recordings of Handel’s arias for bass voices are unusual. This one cheats just a little. To be sure, there are four arias from Italian operas (2 from Siroe, 1 each from Tolomeo and Rinaldo, and 6 from English oratorios (2 each from Esther, Athalia, and Joshua). But there is a complete Italian cantata (Nel’africane Selve) and even an aria by another composer, Porpora, from a pastiche (Catone) contrived for Handel’s company. Still further afield is the Concerto Grosso in F, Op. 3:4—though that sort of thing was used in theater intervals.


Purves has done yeoman service in quite a few recordings by now, and he reminds us here that he is a skilled and sensitive artist. He is well-attuned to the different characters and their moods as he moves from one selection to another. But he is a baritone, and many of these call for the darker timbres of a bass. Beyond that, while I have admired other work by Cohen as conductor, I find that his treatment here of the concerto seems rather weak and limp.


So, a nice release as far as it goes, but my benchmark for Handel’s bass arias is the program that Bryn Terfel did back in 1997 (DG 477 9965: M/A 1998)—with some transposed arias and five wasteful inserts from Messiah, but a lot of wonderful style and spirit.


Hyperion offers fine booklet notes by David Vickers and full texts with translations.

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