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Cecilia, volgi un sguargo, HWV89
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'Handel: An Ode for St Cecilia’s Day' (CDA67463)
Handel: An Ode for St Cecilia’s Day
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'Handel: An Ode for St Cecilia’s Day' (SACDA67463)
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SACDA67463  Super-Audio CD — Deleted  
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No 1. Recitative: Cecilia, volgi un sguardo
No 2. Aria: La Virtute è un vero nume
No 3. Recitative: Tu, armonica Cecilia
No 4. Aria: Splenda l'alba in oriente
No 5. Recitative: Carco sempre di gloria
No 6a. Aria: Sei cara, sei bella
No 6b. Aria: Un puro ardor
Track 22 on CDA67463 [2'44]
Track 4 on KING6 [2'44] Super-budget price sampler — Download only
Track 22 on SACDA67463 [2'44] Super-Audio CD — Deleted
Track 3 on KING7 [2'44] Super-budget price sampler — Deleted
No 6c. Aria: Sei cara
No 7. Recitative: È ben degna di lode
No 8. Duetto: Tra amplessi innocenti

Cecilia, volgi un sguargo, HWV89
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

Track-specific metadata
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Details for SACDA67463 track 24
No 7, Recitative: È ben degna di lode
Recording date
26 June 2003
Recording venue
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Ben Turner
Recording engineer
Philip Hobbs
Hyperion usage
  1. Handel: An Ode for St Cecilia’s Day (CDA67463)
    Disc 1 Track 24
    Release date: September 2004
  2. Handel: An Ode for St Cecilia’s Day (SACDA67463)
    Disc 1 Track 24
    Release date: September 2004
    Deletion date: December 2011
    Super-Audio CD — Deleted
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