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Appréciation d'ensemble / Overall evaluation : ½

Reviewer: Berta Joncus

What truly distinguishes soprano Carolyn Sampson’s recordings are her programmes. Yes, her instrument is glorious and her readings exquisitely crafted, but it’s her carefully selected and interconnected musical choices that truly set her apart. This new recording exemplifies Sampson’s rare sensibility, as both per former and intellectual. The young Handel, darling of Italy’s high-power patrons, poured into his cantatas of the first decade of the 18th century expressive means which he was encountering for the first time. Abandonment sharpened the drama: Armida whose lover has escaped, Daedalus whose son Icarus flies too close to the sun, Agrippina whose own son Nero has ordered her execution – each suffers diverse passions due to abandonment. But un like other cantata com posers, Handel communicates the individual nature of his subjects.

The sexiiness of Armida, the silliness of Icarus, the shiftlessness of Agrippina are implicit in his score; Sampson’s performance, and that of the King’s Consort, makes them splendidly explicit. As the sensuous Armida, Sampson almost drawls the word ‘crudele’ as continuo players weave obsessively around it. In ‘Tra le fiamma’, about Icarus and Daedalus, first Sampson and then the Consort top Handel’s flighty variations with their own; it would be funny, except that in the next aria Sampson’s darkened vocal hues and the Consort’s jabbing sequences prefigure the fall of Icarus. As the murderous, desperate Agrippina, Sampson’s intensity is relentless, from the machine-like staccato of her furius recitative to the limpid line and luminous timbres of arias in which she surrenders to her fate. Her ex temporising isn’t quite as extravagant as that of other artists performing the same cantatas, but in Abbandonata Sampson plumbs fresh expressive depths.


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