Handel in Italy, vol. 1.

Sophie Bevan, Mary Bevan, Benjamin Bevan SSB, London Early Opera, Bridget Cunningham
43:00
Signum Records SIGCD423

We had two reviews of this disc:

A pleasant compilation, showcasing the considerable vocal talents of three of the Bevan family in works from the youthful Handel’s Italian years. The recently discovered Gloria opens the programme in fine style; Sophie Bevan has the agility to cope with the taxing semiquaver work in the fast movements, along with the tonal beauty to make the slower sections glow. (Incidentally, the Laudate Pueri quote in the ‘Quoniam tu solus’ might help convince those doubtful of the work’s Handelian authenticity.) The other substantial piece is the cantata Cuopre tal volta il cielo which Bridget Cunningham, in her excellent sleeve note, suggests may have been written for the Neapolitan Antonio Manna, the first Polifemo in Handel’s 1707 serenata. Benjamin Bevan throws off the work’s vocal gymnastics with much aplomb; try the splendid first aria, ‘Tuona, balena,’ and marvel! Arias from Agrippina and Il Trionfo del Tempo give Mary Bevan centre stage. ’Un pensiero nemico di pace,’ with its contrasting B section, is thrillingly done, while ‘Bel Piacere’ positively dances. The disc is (somewhat meagrely, at 43 minutes!) completed by the grand orchestral Passacaille from Rodrigo and the fine ‘Sonata for a Harpsichord with Double Keys,’ persuasively played by Bridget Cunningham.

With such fine interpreters, it would have been fascinating to explore, e. g., some of the many little-known continuo cantatas – perhaps for later in this series?

Alastair Harper

The main items are the first and the last, starting with the Gloria for soprano, two violins and continuo, possibly inspired by a Telemann Kyrie and Gloria. The incompetence of the awareness of the pre-2001 scholars is shown in the first column of my edition, produced in time for the first performance in Huntingdon before the work’s official modern appearance. The music itself has not been formally accepted by Handel scholars (hence HWV deest) and seems to have fallen into anonymity; I can’t think when I last sold my edition! Sophie is well worth hearing, but not quite up to Emma Kirkby, the first to have recorded it. The cantata Cuopre tal volta il cielo (HWV 98) is for Bass, two violins and continuo. The first pair has a powerful accompanied recitative and aria in 6/8, the basic words being concerned with storm and thunder. The mood changes with a secco recitative followed by an aria which has an amazing variety with the four staves often having different simultaneous themes. Surprisingly, seeing that I’ve three different copies (Chrysander 52a p. 121, HHA V/3 p. 251 and Green Man’s HAN 1), I had no recollection of it.

The two instrumental items are the orchestral passacaglia from Rodrigo and a Sonata with double Keys in G (HWV 579), played by Bridget Cunningham. Agrippina used to be scorned, but “Bel piacere” (No. 45) has alternations of 3/8 and 2/4. “Un pensiero” (Il Trionfo…) is a lively aria with non-stop semiquavers on the violins, with only a rest in the B section. It’s a bit odd when the booklet comments on the two operas at length when there were just two isolated pieces and minimal remarks on the music. The Bevans were excellent – but I’m not clear whether the Benjamin Bevan is the youngest of a family of 14 or if that is the number of Bevans who have been professional singers since Maurice. Do check the price before you buy it: £12.00 is a very expensive 43 minutes!

Clifford Bartlett

The stars are from Alastair.