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Handel
Renée Fleming, Harry Bicket, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Handel
Genre: Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (16) - Disc #1

Those who may have feared that Renée Fleming might approach Handel with a too-Romantic vocal attitude need not have; whether it's the leadership of the sympathetic, historically informed Harry Bicket, the sound of the spar...  more »

      
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All Artists: Renée Fleming, Harry Bicket, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, George Friedrich Handel
Title: Handel
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: Decca
Release Date: 9/14/2004
Genre: Classical
Style: Opera & Classical Vocal
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 028947554721

Synopsis

Amazon.com
Those who may have feared that Renée Fleming might approach Handel with a too-Romantic vocal attitude need not have; whether it's the leadership of the sympathetic, historically informed Harry Bicket, the sound of the spare but warm Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, plain good sense and musicianship, or any combination of these, here she offers sixteen arias in almost-impeccable Baroque fashion. I doubt whether sopranos of Handel's age had voices as plush as Ms Fleming's but she manages to keep her tone as light and as airy as possible in these selections, never leaning or swooping into an accompanying note in an "un-Baroque" manner, and the result is simply ravishing. The voice, of course, is almost unbelievably beautiful and agile, the technique impeccable, complete with a trill unmatchable in any soprano singing today. From the long-breathed lines of "O sleep why dost thou leave me" from Semele to the fireworks in Cleopatra's "Da tempeste?," with stops along the way at the famous "Ombra mai fu" and a complete rarity from the composer's Lotario, this CD is just breathtaking. Brava Fleming--and bravo Harry Bicket! Oh, yes--bravo Handel! --Robert Levine

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CD Reviews

Really Dull
BDSinC | Calgary, Alberta, Canada | 09/06/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I love Renee Fleming's singing and her voice, but lately she is becoming a "vocalizer" and not a singer. Her words are lost in the sound, her vowels are distorted, and even though the sound is lovely as always, this ruins what the singing is all about. Firstly, I care less if she sings quietly or loudly, for this idea of Baroque singing being gentle and light is silly, not to mention not supported by any of the writings of the day (were not the castrati noted for voices so full and vibrant nothing could compete with them?). Even the great Catalani was said to have sang so loudly that Spontini when asked if he would attend her concert stated he could well hear her from where he lived (about 40 miles away from where the concert was given), and the writers of the day stated that one was want to put cotton in their ears because her voice was so powerful. Marchesi was noted for his "bomba" where he could sing a scale (even a scale trillant) and end on a super loud full incredible note at the top of the scale and the top of his lungs. No singer, saving the creator of Orfeo for Gluck was noted for singing in some delicate manner with subdued volume (and in this case it was because he was seen as a fourth rate singer at best). Why we persist on thinking Baroque music must be sung in this sweet half voiced sound is beyond me. It is just not supported by the facts of the day. Perhaps their voices were smaller than what we are accustomed to hearing, but they were full and penetrating for their day, not caressing and gentle whispers.

This said, I think Renee would have done better to just sing out in the way she sings for normal singing. Let her voice go, let the fullness and vibrancy of her sound carry. The idea of a small vibrato, or nearly vibratoless sound is also WRONG, and not supported by any of the writings of the day. That is the creation of instrumentalists in the Baroque field who have taken the development of instrumental music and tacked it on vocal music, which was light years ahead of instrumental music in that day (the vibration of the voice is what inspired the use of vibrato in instruments, for it gave a cleaner and more "in tune" sound).

I think all around we would have had performances that were more exciting and more thrilling to experience. Prettiness is fine, but after a while it communcates nothing much.

I rated the recording only a four star, and not because of the orchestra. They are super and the concept of the music, the presentation as conceived by the conductor is wonderfully vibrant. Renee Fleming's voice just doesn't match it (as I said, she shouldn't have held back).

The other problem is her increasing habit of distorting the vowels while singing. She makes words meaningless and stupid by doing so. In "Endless Pleasure" the word "LOVE" is actually sang "LAV", and the vowel changes constantly, not as is often the case because of a vocal cover needed for the passagio, but because of BAD SINGING. As with most of her singing in English, it is sloppy and her diction is very poor. One understood Sutherland better than they understand her. Singing is not vocalizing, it is communicating, and quoting Toscanini when he first heard Callas at the beginning of her career, "What is she singing about, if the words aren't clear nothing has been sung worth hearing." Whether Callas actually ever heard this comment or not, I have no clue, but poor diction is NOT a fault one levels against Callas. She learned at some time that the words are every bit as important as the music, and she respected them completely. That is my complaint with Fleming, including a concert I was at of her singing Strauss's Four Last songs; one understood NOTHING, not one word of what she sang. She is getting worse and worse with her bad diction, and it is being replaced with delicate sweet singing, lovely tone, and dazzling technique, but like Toscanini said, "nothing worth hearing has been sung."

With the great talent Renee Fleming has, and she has been blessed abundantly with talent (more than most ever dream of), it is high time she cleaned up these bad habits that are creeping into her singing. Let us hear your words! Let us understand them! Let us feel something in our hearts because of them! Let us weep inside because we understand the message and the beauty of the voice reflects that message to us and shares it with our hearts. STOP just singing like you are vocalizing.

Other than this complaint, the set is beautifully sung, lifeless in many ways, but beautifully sung. Te Kanawa sings "Let the Bright Seraphin" a billion times better (even Sutherland outshone Fleming by light years, and her diction was sketchy at best); Beverly Sills did the Juilius Caesar arias (especially Da Tempesta) with excitement and with energy, a thing Fleming could learn from. Many of these arias are far better sung by other singers than they are here. Those performances seemed to radiate commitment to the music and the meaning of the words, this recording, sadly, does neither. It is pretty to the extreme, very wonderfully lovely, gentle on the ear, great as elevator music or something you listen to while doing the housework. Nothing about this performance commands your attention and makes you stand up and take notice. Despite the beauty and the finess of the singing, we are left waiting for some reason to listen to it, nothing grabs us and makes us pay attention to what we are hearing."
Not a Good Fit - Articulation of Text & Coloratura Lacking
Terry Serres | Minneapolis, MN United States | 04/13/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)

"I did not much care for this recording. In the music of Handel clean attack, felicity in diction, and facility in ornamentation are all key - and all lacking here. It can be partly attributed to her soft-focused, cushiony voice, which doesn't bring forth clean lines in tightly articulated passages. Her shake / trill sounds alien to her basic timbre. Beyond that, to my ears she fails to weave character, voice, style, and emotional verity in an effective or illuminating way. Though she can spin out individual phrases of great beauty (thanks to impressive breath control), too often she fails to give overall shape to the aria. Particularly unappealing are her da capos on the ABA arias. Her Italian is very weak - with inflections and vowels often decidedly American -- and she is in general more successful in the selections in English. She is not aided by an acoustic whose oppressiveness I didn't fully appreciate until I listened under headphones. And Bicket's strings sound sluggish throughout. Practically every piece can be heard in a more satisfying version on other recital discs or complete opera sets.

To anyone who assumes that because I dislike a particular recording by an acknowledged superstar, I am merely out to tear her down, I would hasten to admit that I was no more thrilled by the recording of "V'adoro pupille" made by Elly Ameling, my favorite singer of all time -- though there is much else to admire on the (now deleted) album of "Eighteenth Century Bel Canto" where that recording apears. The detailed comments below should be enough to convince that, whatever my biases, my assessment of Fleming's CD is based on a considerate listening.

1. "Oh, sleep, why dost thou leave me?" Certainly Renée Fleming puts her best foot forward with this one. Beautifully phrased and inflected. Its dreaminess is sustained, thanks to her applying only the most modest of embellishments on the da capo.
2. "Endless pleasure." Nice and sprightly.
3. "Scoglio d'immota fronte" begins the problems. The melody in the A section is somewhat jumpy to begin with, and she hasn't the melodic precision or rhythm of the language to bring it off. Her da capo has messy ornamentation and she inserts a shrieky cadenza at the finale. On Emma Kirkby's first Hyperion volume of Handel arias, she has more bite, more precision, more fluidity. Her voice has more ring to it, and this is one of those trumpet-laced arias that calls for just that. The middle section is much more elegant, not just a musical afterthought. Kirkby's high note at the finale is quite fugitive, so if that's all you care about you may disregard her superiority in this material.
4. "Quando spieghi i tuoi tormenti." "Canti" is pronounced like the American "can't", and "pianga" is pronounced "pianja." Fleming fails to make this sweet, beguiling lament an affecting moment.
5. "Ombra mai fu." A good of example of her inability to lend a well-known aria the proper emotional arc. Lorraine Hunt on Avie with the same conductor brings greater grasp and focus -- thus her version seems shorter though it is longer. Her voice is both more fervent and sweeter, with far better Italian. She is not afraid to employ chest tones and her final "amabile" is heart-stopping.
6. "To fleeting pleasures make your court." Fleming's attempt at delighted word-pointing in this aria make her sound like one of the witches in Dido and Aeneas.
7. "Lascia ch'io pianga." Far bettered by Bartoli in the complete Rinaldo set on Decca. Maybe it's that in this album Fleming is forced to deliver a series of emotional highpoints, but in her hands this aria lacks the sense of a big moment that Bartoli invests in it - not through volume or overdone emotion, but in style of attack and utterance, in projection of emotion.
8. Armida's aria from the same opera is indulged by Fleming with some swoony, swooping, scooping on several of the "pieta"s. Orgonasova on the Decca set paces it far better and her big finish is more satisfying, though her voice sounds veiled.
9. "Let the Bright Seraphim." Some nice breath control on display here. But this again is a piece that calls for a ring to the voice, which Auger on Delos provides much more readily, along with a cleaner, brighter, more straightforward reading - though her middle section is oddly paced, almost chorale-like.
10. "V'adoro pupille." A mess, simply put. Pedestrian phrasing in the A section, a peremptory B section, garish and scattershot ornamentation on the da capo - all make for an unappealing traversal of this favorite. Kirkby with Goodman on Hyperion is a winner from the first note. Goodman gives fuller range to the strings, and all obbligato instruments are seductively woven in - and Kirkby offers beautiful singing and a delicate da capo in an aria that can too often sound hiccough-like with its halting melody. If you need a bigger sound and bolder statement, go for Bayrakdarian on her "Cleopatra" disc on CBC Records.
11. "Da tempeste il legno infranto" from the same opera. Rather better. Both the middle section and the da capo are hugely overblown, but she manages it without alienating us entirely from the music. Still, Maria Bayo on Astree is better - far suppler in her coloratura and more fluent in diction. Her da capo is dramatic indeed, though not nearly as extreme as Fleming - but her final flair makes more of a point for being more judiciously applied.
13. "D'una torbida sorgente." Admirably straightforward and elegant and emotionally defined.
14. "Pensieri, voi mi tormentate." This first selection from Agrippina is more successful for Fleming, possibly due to the unusual, arresting, modern-sounding orchestration that provides more of a frame for her lush sound and helps dictate the shape of the aria. It's more of a declamatory musical style, making ornamental editorializing out of the question.
16. "Convey me to some peaceful shore." An affecting and rare piece, quite sad and unusual for being through-composed. Nicely done, but the boxy acoustics and a general lack of contour afflict Fleming's version. One could argue that the still pulse of the strings prevents lending the piece more shape but there are ways to sustain emotional momentum. Still, it's nice to have such an uncommon selection ending this recital.

If you're a Fleming fan, you'll get this no matter what. For my taste, her considerable talents and my not-so-consiberable money are better spent elsewhere. If you're looking for a Handel recital, my recommendations would be the intensely committed Hunt, the elegant Kirkby (my personal favorite), and the fresh-sounding Bayo. Hunt brings undeniable power, agility, and emotional charge. The Kirkby sound is not to all tastes, but her insightful inflections work magic for me and will repay the attentive listener ... and Goodman's forces outshine Bicket by a wide margin.
"
Brava! Bravo! Bravo! Fleming and Handel and Bicket
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 09/29/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Renee Fleming steps into this well-conceived recital of Handel arias in collaboration with Henry Bicket and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with all the intelligence, sensitivity to text, and thoughtful re-enactment of the period sound of Handel that we have grown to expect of Fleming the recitalist. Her voice is in radiant bloom, pliable, supple, precise in the filigree, used with integrity to match the exemplary style and sound of the orchestra, and she has fulfilled the promise of her previous outings with Handel, proving that she is a vocal stylist in rarefied company. To list special passages in a review would entail mentioning every aria on the CD! Suffice it to say that this is singing of the highest order and no matter what previous concepts you might have as to how Baroque music should be performed, listening to this 10 Star CD will make you a believer of the Renee Fleming/Henry Bicket approach here exquisitely offered."