Gramophone Recording of the month

Handel: Serse
Linn CKD 709

This animated and engaging recording captured with clarity might, perhaps, finally please the Fourth Earl of Shaftesbury who bemoaned the indifferent performances of the original cast back in May 1738. Despite that commercial failure (only 5 performances) I would agree with David Kimbell's judgement that 'Serse is at least the equal of the finest Royal Academy operas of the mid 1720s...' and certainly one of the most melodious. Part of its modern attraction lies in the proto-buffa elements, thanks largely to the libretto's Venetian origins later adapted by Silvio Stampiglia (1664–1725) and once set to music by Giovanni Bononcini. There are comedic moments - often driven by the two Venetian stock figures - which are hard to capture on a sound recording, but which this pleasingly delineated cast keep clear and light as their quickfire recitative allows many emotions to sparkle between the famous arias.

The superb cast is led by Emily D’Angelo in the title role and her opening aria will not disappoint; beautifully controlled and rich in tone it’s an entrance aria like none other – a powerful King singing about the beauty of a tree. Bicket’s tempo may not wallow, but D'Angelo certainly basks in the long melodic lines, leaving hints of despotic tendencies for the long journey ahead. This opera inspired some of Handel's most ingenious musical architecture and his gentle but persistent disruption of formal conventions throughout aid both comedic flow and character development. The first sign of this is Romilda's entrance which, heralded by muted strings and recorders, mocks Serse's tree-hugging antics. However, her song is interrupted by onlookers, by the time she reaches a dazzling cabaletta Serse has fallen for her. Lucy Crowe plays this scene superbly well from her radiant first entry to her audacious and fearless ornamentation in Và godendo vezzosa e bello.


For the full text of this review please see Gramophone magazine (July 2023)


Popular Posts