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Hyperion Records

CDA67627 - Handel: German Arias
CDA67627

Recording details: October 2006
Menuhin Hall, Yehudi Menuhin School, Stoke d'Abernon, Cobham, Surrey, United Kingdom
Produced by Ben Turner
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: June 2007
Total duration: 69 minutes 22 seconds

GRAMOPHONE RECOMMENDS

'With her pure, luminous tone, graceful sense of phrase and discerning musicality, Carolyn Sampson gives enchanting performances of music that is essentially about enchantment … 'Süsse Stille' is exquisitely shaped and savoured, with a rapt, confiding pianissimo at the da capo. Elsewhere Sampson perfectly catches the blissful langour of 'Künft'ger Zeiten eitler Kummer' and brings a smiling eagerness to 'Die ihr aus dunklen Grüften', enhancing the da capo with playful touches of ornamentation' (Gramophone)

'The nine German arias Handel composed … still rank among his best-kept secrets. Barthold Brockes's verses are a pantheistic celebration of God-in-Nature, and Handel responded with music of hedonistic enchantment, from the rapt, wondering Süsse Stille to the laughing ebullience of Das zitternde Glänzen. Always a lovely Handel soprano, Carolyn Sampson sings these arias with her trademark pellucid tone and refined phrasing. She spins a smooth, serene line in the more contemplative numbers, and dances blithely in an aria such as Süsser Blumen Ambraflocken, vying with violinist Stéphanie-Marie Degand in playful coloratura flourishes' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Carolyn Sampson beautifully expresses inward rapture and outward joy, and she is touchingly wistful in 'Süsser Blumen'. She is nicely matched by the violin of Stéphane-Marie Degand, and the spiky tone of Alexandra Bellamy is an extra pleasure in the three oboe sonatas' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Carolyn Sampson comes across spectacularly well on disc. Her beautiful sweet-toned soprano is ideally suited to the baroque repertoire and here, as in the other Hyperion releases such as Handel's Ode to St Cecilia, she excels. The performance is well-integrated, both within the ensemble and between instruments and voice' (MusicOMH.com)

'Carolyn Sampson's singing is graceful, pure-toned, beautiful … She embellishes neatly, her runs are smooth, and in a contemplative song like Künftiger Zeiten eitler Kummer she can spin out phrases to magical effect … Balance and clarity are admirable, as indeed are the introductory texts' (International Record Review)

'Sampson persuasively evokes the innocent, carefree countryside in Handel’s Nine German Arias, both at quicksilver speed with babbling effervescent runs and shakes in Das Zitternde Glanzen, and at languid siesta pace with caressing vocal heat and a slight, appealing huskiness in Süsse Stille … The oboist Alexandra Bellamy plays the three oboe sonatas with thrilling buoyancy, burning long notes and no mechanical clatter' (The Times)

'Carolyn Sampson, who has a vivacious personality to go with her bright tone and virtuoso technique, sings Handel's melting melodies as if born to them. The open textures of the period-instrument King's Consort could hardly be more attractive, to boot' (Star Ledger, USA)

' … this is essential Handel … Carolyn Sampson sings with great circumspection and understanding of Handel's intentions' (Audiophile Audition, USA)

'Sampson brings undeniable flair to these arias, sometimes endowing them with a beguiling sensuality … Alexandra Bellamy plays with a gentle, relaxed period sound that is very pleasing ' (American Record Guide)

German Arias
Adagio  [1'40]
Allegro  [1'54]
Adagio  [2'13]
Menuet  [1'16]
Allegro  [3'05]
Grave  [1'37]
Allegro  [2'15]
Largo  [2'08]
Allegro  [1'34]
Adagio  [1'49]

In this enchanting disc, Carolyn Sampson’s ravishing, silvery tones are put to the service of some of Handel’s most joyous and profound music for the solo voice.

Handel wrote little for his native tongue, but what he did demonstrates a particular level of contemplative pietism while still employing the familiar techniques of Italian opera. In these nine German arias he set the poems of his contemporary Barthold Heinrich Brockes, and their theme is that the abundant goodness of God is evident in the joy and beauty of His creation. The musical relationships with Handel’s opera arias are evident in the endless ingenuity of his characterization and the expressive, articulate melodies with which the soprano and the violin obbligato create their vivid images.

These arias are paired with Handel’s three oboe sonatas—delightful works which demonstrate the composer’s enthusiasm for the instrument’s expressive capabilities and colours.


Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
There are few compositions by the Saxon-born Handel featuring sung texts in his native tongue. His early training with the Halle organist Zachow led to some church music that is now lost. From his youthful years at Hamburg (1703–06), only one of four operas has survived. With the tiny extant amount of the teenage Handel’s music displaying few indications of genius, it seems likely that the full extent of his creative powers blossomed into flaming colours during a four-year trip to Italy (1706–10). Acclaimed and adored as ‘il caro Sassone’, Handel might have settled permanently in Italy had it not been for his firm Protestant beliefs; he resisted attempts to convert him to Roman Catholicism. Instead, Handel’s first substantial musical appointment was as Kapellmeister at the Elector of Hanover’s court (1710– 13); however, Handel spent most of this period pursuing a flourishing freelance career in London. The only works that can be securely attributed to Hanover are a series of beguiling chamber duets and the large-scale cantata Apollo e Dafne, dating from about 1710. All were composed in Italian.

Throughout the rest of his long career, Handel returned to set German texts for two projects. Both were associated with the poet Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680–1747), who was a town councillor of Hamburg. Not only did the two men share a Hamburg connection, but Brockes had studied at the University of Halle between 1702 and 1704, coinciding with Handel’s registered period of study there. Brockes held weekly concerts in his apartment at Halle, and perhaps these were the catalyst for his cultivating a lasting friendship with Handel. In about 1716 Handel composed a setting of Brockes’s passion oratorio Der für die Sünde der Welt gemarterte und sterbende Jesus, which their mutual friend Johannes Mattheson claimed was composed in England and sent to Hamburg for performance. In 1721, Brockes’s collection of poems Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott, bestehend in Physicalisch- und Moralischen Gedichten was published at Hamburg. Arranged into ariosos, arias, duets, and with introductory or linking texts ideal for recitative, Brockes evidently wished to encourage musical settings of his poetry. The publication was popular, and successively revised and expanded. The second edition (1724) was nearly double the number of pages, and this version was probably Handel’s source for the texts of nine arias.

Handel’s last musical settings of his native tongue are particularly profound and contemplative. Brockes, who presumably shared some Pietist leanings with Handel while a student at Halle, argues in these poems that the abundant goodness of God is evident in the joy and beauty of His creation. Brockes headed six of the poems Handel set with biblical quotations (four from Psalms, and two from Ecclesiastes), which clarify the theme that God’s goodness is evident in nature. Like any practical professional musician of the eighteenth century, Handel did not compose for his own amusement or because the muses had struck particularly powerfully that afternoon. Whether by request, or on Handel’s own initiative, it seems most plausible that the nine arias were intended for performance in Hamburg. As far as we know, Handel had not revisited the city since the beginnings of his operatic career there two decades earlier, but the production of his Passion setting in about 1716 and three relationships with friends of his youth (Brockes, Mattheson, and also Telemann) raise several possible hypotheses about why and for whom Handel undertook his work. Perhaps Handel’s affection for Mattheson had chilled somewhat by the mid-1720s, but Telemann had been appointed director of music for Hamburg’s churches in 1721, and is known to have set three of Brockes’s cantata texts at around that time (sadly, the music is now lost). Perhaps Handel’s nine arias were an element of some sort of correspondence with Telemann.

Nevertheless, the most likely solution is that Handel and Brockes had some sort of direct correspondence, not least because Brockes soon came to know and admire Handel’s settings. In the second volume of Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott, published in 1727, Brockes reused some of the aria texts that Handel had set, with the following explanation: ‘The arias of this and the next two cantatas admittedly appear in various places in the earlier part of this work. However, because Herr Hendel, the world-famous virtuoso, has set them to music in a very special way, the author has thought it a good idea to bring them all together, with newly written recitatives, in three cantatas.’ Furthermore, a later edition of Brockes’s poems published in about 1740 includes Die Anmuthige Wasser-Fahrt in einer schönen Sommer-Nacht, which describes a family river excursion during which he was moved to sing Süße Stille, accompanied by his son playing the flute and with his other children also joining in. The Brockes family knew and loved Handel’s arias—which is remarkable considering that the arias were unpublished until 1921, and no secondary manuscript copies have yet been identified.

The sole surviving source of the music is Handel’s undated autograph manuscript, now in the British Library. Contrary to some suggestions that Brockes wrote some of the poem texts in the original score, the handwriting is entirely Handel’s own—apart from the mysterious numbering of the sequence, which seems to have been added by another hand and has unclear authentic significance. It is unlikely that the arias were conceived as a single project in the manner of a Schubert song-cycle, and an examination of the paper-types used in the manuscript reveals that the arias were probably composed in three batches between 1724 and 1726. Several arias share musical relationships with material in Handel’s contemporary London operas Giulio Cesare, Tamerlano and Rodelinda. HWV202 and HWV203 were probably composed together, another five songs (HWV204, 206– 208 and 210) seem to date from a separate burst of compositional activity, and it is likely that HWV205 and HWV209 were written together on another occasion.

The use of a flute accompaniment was a practical expediency for the Brockes family on a boat, but it does not reflect how Handel envisaged his music would be performed under ideal circumstances. Handel did not specify the treble clef obbligato instrument performing the solo part in his nine arias, but he would have known that an early eighteenth-century flute could not play the bottom C in Süße Stille. Handel’s probable intention for all nine arias to be accompanied by solo violin and continuo is confirmed by the range of the solo writing throughout the work, and particularly by the use of treble-stopping in Süßer Blumen Ambraflocken. Handel often used unison violins (with or without oboes) for orchestral accompaniment in opera arias, but, although it is possible that the nine German arias were composed with orchestral performance in mind, the intimacy of Brockes’s poetry and the subtlety of Handel’s music lend themselves most obviously to chamber performance with violin and soprano soloists supported by continuo.

All nine arias are a mellifluous compound of articulate Italianate musical style with German contemplative rhetorical enquiry. All are in operatic da capo form (except In den angenehmen Büschen). The beginning sections, repeated at the end of each aria, present an observation of natural beauty. Handel’s willingness to devote more time and detail than usual to notably developed middle sections indicates his artistic sensitivity for his task, and perhaps hints at personal compassion for Brockes’s clarification of how appreciating nature consolidates religious faith.

Künft’ger Zeiten eitler Kummer HWV202 serenely expresses contentment with the life bestowed upon us by the Creator. It is the only poem not featured in Brockes’s first 1721 edition, and thus confirms that Handel knew and worked from the revised 1724 publication. Handel’s setting has traces of his Italian cantatas Sei pur bella, pur vezzosa (HWV160c) and Siete rose ruggiadose (HWV162), but, more closely, an aria ‘Questo core incatenato’ discarded from the first draft of Giulio Cesare. Handel’s bubbly extrovert music in Das zitternde Glänzen der spielenden Wellen HWV203 conveys the sparkling brilliance of water rushing over sandy shores and riverbeds. Its principal theme foreshadows ‘How vain is man’ in the later English oratorio Judas Maccabaeus. Like the vivacious Flammende Rose, Zierde der Erden HWV210, it shares musical material with arias added for the soprano Benedetta Sorosina, daughter of George I’s agent in Venice, in the January 1725 revival of Giulio Cesare.

Süßer Blumen Ambraflocken HWV204 is a sensual evocation of the scent of Amber flowers, in which the middle section describing the soul soaring heavenwards bears a resemblance to Cleopatra’s ‘Piangerò’ (Giulio Cesare). Handel’s beautiful Süße Stille, sanfte Quelle HWV205, marked Larghetto, compares the way a fine spring moonlit night follows day with how eternal peace awaits us after the futile labour of life. An invigorating triple-time metre and minor-key animation are used in Singe, Seele, Gott zum Preise HWV206 to express the singer’s praise to the Creator for gloriously adorning the world.

Meine Seele hört im Sehen HWV207 features musical material Handel used in his Trio Sonata in B flat major Op 2 No 3 (HWV388) and also in a Sonata in F for two violins (HWV392). The lyrical opening melody, memorably reused for the aria ‘Date serta’ in the motet Silete venti, introduces a comparison of the visual flourishes of blossoming spring with the forces of nature joining to praise God. Die ihr aus dunkeln Grüften HWV208 has a stealthy bass line and strongly characterized violin solo part similar to the aria ‘Forte e lieto’ in Tamerlano. The operatic version represents Bajazet’s stubbornness in conflict with filial love, and introduces a character whose actions are frequently misconceived. Brockes’s poem makes that rhetorical character in the music even stronger, with the singer advising that those who dig for gold and gems waste their time in the dark while they should instead be experiencing the real treasure of God’s creation. There is another link with Tamerlano in In den angenehmen Büschen HWV209, in which music related to Tamerlano’s ‘Dammi pace, oh volto amato’ is an evocative description of pleasant bushes where shadows and light mingle.

The oboe sonatas
Handel’s chamber sonatas for solo instrument and continuo accompaniment are a quagmire of doubtful authenticity and numerous sonatas assigned to the wrong solo instrument since faulty early editions were published during the composer’s lifetime without his involvement. The music historian Charles Burney related an anecdote that Handel was amused at seeing a copy of six sonatas for two oboes and continuo, which were alleged to be his earliest compositions written when he was a schoolboy of about ten years of age. Although Handel did not confirm the attribution (scholars now believe that their authenticity is doubtful), he reportedly commented: ‘I used to write like the devil in those days, and chiefly for the hautbois, which was my favourite instrument’.

There are only three sonatas of certain authenticity with solo parts that Handel obviously intended for oboe, and each demonstrates Handel’s apparent enthusiasm for the instrument’s expressive capabilities and colours. The earliest of them is the Oboe Sonata in B flat major HWV357, the so-called ‘Fitzwilliam’ sonata because the autograph is now at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Written on Italian paper that Handel also used at Hanover, the French title on the autograph (‘Sonata pour l’Hautbois Solo’) suggests a Hanoverian origin, but the style of the music seems closer to Handel’s earliest period in Italy. The other two authentic oboe sonatas both date from Handel’s first years in London. The autograph of the Oboe Sonata in C minor HWV366 is written on paper similar to fragments of Handel’s debut London opera Rinaldo, and is the only one of the three oboe sonatas published during Handel’s lifetime, as ‘Opus 1 number 8’. The Oboe Sonata in F major HWV363a has no autograph. Although an early printed edition transposed this sonata to G and allocated it to flute, a manuscript copy at the Conservatoire Royal in Brussels is marked ‘Hautb. Solo del Sr. Hendel’. Another version of the music in Handel’s concerto grosso Op 3 No 4 seems more developed than the sonata version, so presumably the sonata was composed in London some time between 1712 and the publication of Op 3 in 1716.

David Vickers © 2007

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