Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
Arne: Artaxerxes (English Orpheus Vol 33) /Robson * Partridge * Spence * Edgar-Wilson * Bott * Hyde * Parley of Instruments * Goodman
Artaxerxes is a strange work. It was composed by Englishman Thomas Arne, who was a generation younger than his great operatic rival, Handel. Arne is best known for the tune "Rule Britannia," from the "masque" Alfred. H... more »
Amazon.com Essential Recording
Artaxerxes is a strange work. It was composed by Englishman Thomas Arne, who was a generation younger than his great operatic rival, Handel. Arne is best known for the tune "Rule Britannia," from the "masque" Alfred. He composed Artaxerxes from an Italian libretto that Arne himself had translated into English. It's chock full of shortish arias in stilted English, but there are tunes galore; Arne had an ear for the punchy musical statement, and this performance is a delight. Patricia Spence in the pants role of Arbaces brings a warm, vibrant tone to her music; as her (his) beloved, Mandane, soprano Catherine Bott almost walks away with the show. Her final aria, "The Soldier Tir'd"--with its insanely complicated vocal line, octave leaps, and breath-defying runs--is a knockout. Ian Partridge and Christopher Robson are also excellent, and Roy Goodman leads with great energy. This is a rarity--and probably will remain one--but it has a lot to offer. --Robert Levine
More English Opera Please!
Steven Guy | 11/26/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Being an enthusiast of 18th century opera, I was pleasantly surprised when a new recording of Thomas Arne's Artaxerxes was made. Until then I was only familiar with the score and an old vinyl recording done years ago. I must say that I am "wowed" by this effort. The sound is very clean and clear and the voices sound magnificent. I especially enjoyed Patricia Spence and Catherine Bott's rendition of Arbaces and Mandane. Their colaratura was, if not flawless, then close to perfection. I shudder to think at the practice needed to sing "Amidst a thousand racking woes" and "Fly, Soft ideas Fly" and yet make it sound effortless. The re-creation of the recitatives and the final coro was thoughtful and stylistically correct. And the requisite winds that were played well added that touch of colour to the pre-classical style. A very nice job of reviving Arne's masterwork indeed! Now if only there were more 18th century English operas like this! Or to extend the wish, more 18th century opera, period. Hasse's Artaserse would be a nice start!"
Native English-language baroque opera!
Dalua | the UK | 07/20/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Thomas Arne is best known for anthems "God Save The King" (if it was really he that wrote it) and "Rule Britannia" as well as his Shakespeare settings "Where the bee sucks" and "Under the greenwood tree". Some may even have heard or read somewhere that Rule Britannia is lifted from an opera or masque called "Alfred". The association of the English language with baroque opera, excepting Henry Purcell's "Dido & Aeneas" and Handel's "Semele" (and his "Hercules" as well as Blow's "Venus & Adonis" for those who've heard of them), probably comes as somewhat of a surprise to most people. But Thomas Augustine Arne was committed to writing opera in English and produced several during his career. Artaxerxes is one of two now represented on disc, the other being Alfred.In its construction (opera seria) and tunefulness Artaxerxes is equal to many of Handel's Italian operas, in my opinion. Perhaps I'm overly influenced by the joy and novelty of discovering a baroque opera written for and performed in my native tongue. But just listen, for example, to "Fair Aurora, pr'ythee stay", "Amid a thousand racking woes", "Thy Father! away, I renounce the soft Claim", "O too lovely, too unkind", "By that belov'd Embrace", "Water parted from the Sea", "Tho' oft a Cloud, with envious Shade", "'Tis not true, that in our Grief" and "The Soldier tir'd of War's Alarms" and see if you don't find yourself inclined to say the same. These are some of the most beautiful and thoughtfully moving, gentle, most fiery and dramatic, determined tunes I have heard.Dramatically this is a fast-moving and exciting opera, expressing quite a wide range of changing emotional states. The plot is one of palace intrigue, misjudgement, confused or mixed loyalties - the dilemmas faced by Arbaces, his sister Semira and his lover Mandane - and even by Arbaces' ambitious and disconent father Artabanes - are thoughtfully explored. Each character is well portrayed in the libretto and, needless to say, Thomas Arne's settings are always appropriate - he, like Purcell, evidently did not take the problem of setting words to music lightly. The libretto is well-balanced between dialogue and aria, flowing seamlessly and yet creating appreciated variety and motion, thanks in no small part to Arne's musical ability, and nothing is amiss.Now, the soloists: given that at the present time this is the only recording of it in existence, one had better hope they do the opera justice. Well, they certainly do (and they're not the singers that I usually look for when it comes to choosing recordings). Patricia Spence portrays the sensitive and loyal Arbaces brilliantly - she is truly impressive, deeply moving in arias such as "O too lovely, too unkind" and "By that belov'd Embrace". Catherine Bott, a most skillful singer, excels herself here, to my surprise (the only other recording I know I like her in is Pickett's recording of John Blow's "Venus & Adonis"); her recitatives demonstrate her involvement in the part as much as do her arias. And one has to admire her effortless performance of "The Soldier tir'd of War's Alarms". As for the resplendent duet between Arbaces and Mandane, "Fair Aurora, pr'thee stay", it's a joy to hear, it really is!Though I'm not a great fan of countertenors, Christopher Robson, as Artaxerxes, is in good voice and at least he's tolerable (unlike many countertenors) - and dramatic. He's not got the voice of Daniel Taylor, of Lawrence Zazzo or of David Daniels but, having said that, they don't always give shining performances (and at least he's better than James Bowman). The presence of a decent countertenor sometimes adds to rather than distracts from the variety of voices and can be surprisingly effective in some instances - in fact Robson blends in very well on this recording.The two tenors - there are no basses - Ian Partridge and Richard Edgar-Wilson, singing the role of Artabanes, Arbaces' father and favourite of the Royal Family, and Rimenes, an army general and confidante of Artabanes - fulfil their roles. Ian Partridge does a particularly good job of Artabanes, even if he's not in possession the most interesting of voices. Richard Edgar-Wilson is unremarkable in my opinion. Philippa Hyde sings Semira, Artabanes sister and lover of Artaxerxes, well and certainly isn't the weak link in the chain. I don't think there is a weak link as such, my main uncertainty being Rimenes or perhaps the feeling that one of the tenor roles should be a baritone, or at least not quite so similar to the other.Roy Goodman's conducting, the Parley of Instruments' playing and Hyperion's recording are clear, well-balanced and precise and let down neither the soloists, the plot nor the individual musical numbers. All-in-all, unless one knows one has a particular aversion to Arne (which is unlikely) or to any of the soloists, this recording cannot possibly disappoint.If only someone had taken up opera in English where Thomas Arne left off! If only he had written more, or if only there were more than just Artaxerxes and Alfred currently on record! And, for anyone who is still in doubt about the worthiness of this native English opera, let me quote from Holman's sleeve notes: "Haydn, who saw it in 1791, was delighted with it, and reportedly said he 'had no idea we had such a opera in the English language'. Few people in modern times can have said anything else.""
A surprisingly powerful opera and a fine interpretation.
Steven Guy | Croydon, South Australia | 01/28/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I realised today that I should have recommended this opera recording some years ago. However, I am happy to report that I am still listening to this recording and enjoying it.
The recording is vivid and The Parley of Instruments is very much to the fore in this recording. Thomas Arne's score contains a number of instruments - strings and basso continuo, of course, but also 2 flutes, 2 Baroque clarinets, 3 oboes, 3 bassoons, 2 natural horns (spectacularly played in the aria "Amid a thousand racking woes"!) and 2 natural trumpets. Okay, this does sound like the score of an opera by Haydn or Mozart, doesn't it? Well, Artaxerxes is first and foremost an Opera Seria, even though the arias of Arbaces and Mandane were written in the "Galant" style. Indeed, the opera sound peculiarly 'Haydn-esque', at times, and one can even hear echoes of the kinds of music Mozart would use in his own Opera Serie, like Idomeneo and Titus. However, a lot of the music in the opera is still quite close to that of Handel and the treatment of the instrumentation in the arias is mostly like that of tradition Opera Seria - voice and basso continuo with a few obbligato instruments and maybe a few strings. So Arne's rich score is not spread across the entire opera and he doesn't use the orchestra in the kinds of imaginative ways that Rameau was doing in France at the same time. The recitatives are dry and instruments like the horns and clarinets only play in the rather formal ritornelli in the arias. However, as Opera Serie go, Artaxerxes is first class and the music is very memorable and works extremely well in the context of the drama.
The cast of this recording is excellent. Christopher Robson sings the role of Artaxerxes and he does this with style. Strangely, Artaxerxes only has three arias! One of my favourite tenors, Ian Patridge, sings the role of Artabanes and his warm voice added much to recording. He was well cast as the father of Arbaces and Semira. Arbaces was sung with great 'gusto' by Patricia Spence - her interpretation of "Amid a thousand racking woes" is a real show-stopper and it is probably the finest aria in the opera, it is certainly the most exciting. I would have preferred hearing a countertenor in this castrato role - David Daniels or Derek Lee Ragin would have had a lot of fun in this role - but Ms Spence does the role justice and gives us some real Baroque "bravura" singing. Catherine Bott sings the almost 'Mozartian' role of Mandane and she is one of my favourite Early Music sopranos. Arne's music for Mandane places him quite far away from the operas of Handel. Maybe if Handel had lived another fifteen years or so, he might have composed such music? Rameau, who was older than Handel and still going strong in 1762, did compose more advanced and complex operatic music, but of course he was NOT writing Opera Serie!
Roy Goodman directs the entire enterprise with great taste, very natural and appropriate tempi, verve and a good sense of theatre.
I hope many more people consider buying this very fine recording of a very interesting and important work. It was probably the only Opera Seria composed in the English language. It is a pity that more were not written."