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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67463
Recording details: June 2003
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Ben Turner
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: September 2004
Total duration: 28 minutes 49 seconds

'This is a mouth-watering performance of Handel's colourfully gorgeous ode…the recording is in a class of its own when it comes to the seemingly effortless, beautiful singing of Carolyn Sampson, now the best British early music soprano by quite some distance…Notwithstanding many agreeable past achievements, King has seldom produced a disc of such outstanding conviction' (Gramophone)

'This new recording finds Robert King and his splendid King's Consort on top form and in Carolyn Sampson he has surely found one of the most exquisite voices for this repertoire' (Gramophone)

'Director Robert King allows the beauty to be revealed on its own terms: the shape, phrasing and pacing all flow effortlessly. Added to this, the exquisite beauty of soprano Carolyn Sampson and the muscular elegance of James Gilchrist ensure that this is a landmark recording' (Choir & Organ)

'Robert King beats the ageing process with regular injections of new voices: they remain full of zest … Excellently recorded, this is an unmissable disc of Handelian delights' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Apart from the contributions of Robert King's ensemble and choir and tenor James Gilchrist, there's one outstanding reason to invest in this pairing of Handel's Ode and the ravishing cantata Cecilia, volgi un sguardo: the soprano Carolyn Sampson' (The Independent)

'For sheer hedonistic delight, few works beat Handel's 1739 Ode for St Cecilia's Day. Dryden's poem in praise of music's powers was a gift to a composer with a genius for the picturesque. 'Handel responded with a string of arias and choruses in his most colourful, sensuous vein. He rarely wrote more ravishing arias than the soprano's sarabande evoking Jubal's lyre (cue for a glorious cello solo), or the serene tribute to the "sacred organ". Carolyn Sampson's limpid tone and graceful phrasing are a prime pleasure in a first-rate performance. Tenor James Gilchrist combines Handelian elegance with muscular bravado in his rollicking "The Trumpet's Loud Clangour". The chorus is crisp and youthful-sounding, and each of the instrumental solos is eloquently done. What gives King the edge over the equally vivid version from Trevor Pinnock (DG Archiv) is the bonus of the rare Italian cantata Cecilia, volgi un sguardo that Handel composed to accompany his earlier Cecilian ode, Alexander's Feast. As an inveterate recycler, he drew liberally on earlier music. But no matter. The results are charming and occasionally, as in the rapt central section of the soprano aria, rather more than that. A delectable disc' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Robert King once again shows what a masterful Handelian he is. In this repertoire, the ensemble reigns supreme—perfection of pacing, phrasing, overall shape and individual details can all be taken absolutely for granted. The glorious colour in the ode is exceptional' (Early Music Review)

'Robert King's approach allows the full beauty of the music to emerge naturally, a lesson for other early music speed merchants' (Classic FM Magazine)

'the unique and irresistible pairing with the cantata rarity makes this Hyperion release one no Handel collector should miss' (Fanfare, USA)

'a work of great charm, radiantly performed on this disc. Strongly recommended' (Goldberg)

'At the heart of it all are Robert King and his splendid ensemble. With King's grasp of rhythm, the overture snaps along marvelously, and his intelligent support of singers makes this an essential Handel recording' (Early Music)

'… a superb recording of a lovable work' (The New York Times)

Cecilia, volgi un sguargo, HWV89
author of text

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The cantata Cecilia, volgi un sguardo was originally written to accompany Alexander’s Feast. It was first performed between the two parts of the ode at Covent Garden on 25 February 1736. As Handel’s setting of the Dryden text proved to be too short to make a full evening’s entertainment, he added three concertos to be played at specified points during the performance, and made a number of attempts to extend the vocal music by setting additional words taken from The Power of Music, a Cecilian ode written in 1720 by his friend Newburgh Hamilton. One of these extensions, set for tenor voice, consisted of an accompanied recitative ‘Look down, harmonious saint’ and an aria ‘Sweet accents’, often sung nowadays as a short cantata. Handel abandoned this interpolation in its original form but soon found a use for the music of the aria in Cecilia, volgi. The presence of an Italian cantata among the mixture of additions to Alexander’s Feast may seem odd, but there was a good reason for it. Anna Strada del Pò, Handel’s leading soprano in 1736, was Italian, and one of the other performers in the ode was Carlo Arrigoni, a Florentine musician who had worked in London since 1732. Arrigoni had been engaged to play the lute in Alexander’s Feast, but he had a good tenor voice and it may only have been an inability to sing in English that prevented him from being a vocal soloist in the ode. Adding an Italian cantata for Strada and Arrigoni was therefore a sensible and generous gesture on Handel’s part, giving both singers a chance to show their abilities in their native tongue.

Much of the text and a little of the musical material for Cecilia, volgi is taken from Splenda l’alba in oriente. As first composed the cantata consisted of two arias with introductory recitatives, all for Arrigoni’s tenor voice, followed by a soprano recitative for Strada and the final duet. Obviously this was not a satisfactory structure from Strada’s point of view, and so before performance Handel added another recitative for her and inserted the aria ‘Sei cara, sei bella’, the music of which was simply a slightly trimmed version of the aria ‘Sweet accents’ from the earlier abandoned addition. When the full score of Alexander’s Feast was published by Walsh in 1738, Cecilia, volgi was printed in an appendix, together with an additional aria ‘Sei del ciel’, probably inserted for the mezzo-soprano castrato Domenico Annibali when the ode and the cantata were repeated in 1737. The first aria of the cantata is modestly accompanied with continuo alone, perhaps as a deliberate contrast to the powerful chorus ‘The many rend the skies’ that preceded it at the end of Part 1 of Alexander’s Feast. It nevertheless tests the tenor voice with a highly elaborate vocal line. The next aria, based on the opening aria of Splenda l’alba in oriente and using the same text, has a lively triple-time rhythm, with an accompaniment of full strings. ‘Sei cara’, the soprano aria, has a variety of effects within itself. The main section is mostly in fast tempo, with a vocal line dominated by long, florid runs, but it is divided into two statements, each begun with the opening words set in a slow tempo, inviting additional vocal embellishment. In the middle section, originally composed as a reflection on the mysterious power of music, a new and unexpected mood of ravishing intensity is ushered in by a change to a minor key and the entry of the full strings. Shifting harmonies help to create a musical equivalent of the rapt, heavenward-gazing image of Cecilia found in many Renaissance paintings. The cantata closes in lighter style, with jaunty, syncopated rhythms bringing a sense of playfulness to the final duet. Handel’s last cantata with orchestral accompaniment celebrates the joint themes of music and virtue with engaging warmth.

from notes by Anthony Hicks © 2004

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