Agrippina

Ann Hallenberg S, Il Pomo d’Oro, Riccardo Minasi
74:34
deutsche harmonia mundi 88875053982
Arias by K. H. Graun, Handel, Legrenzi, Magni, Mattheson, Orlandini, Perti, Porpora, G. B. Sammartini & Telemann

This is a delectable disc.

Ann Hallenberg has a tremendous technique and a fine eye for unusual repertoire (her 2012 Hidden Handel disc with Alan Curtis is a particular personal favourite). This time we have an extremely clever selection of operatic arias written around the formidable characters of Agrippina and her eponymous sister and daughter, none of whom one would care to meet on a dark night in the Forum!

The music ranges from late 17th-century continuo accompanied Legrenzi to galant Graun – the second of whose arias, “Mi paventi il figlio indegno”, is a real show-stopper, with blazing brass and an absolutely breathtaking display of perfectly-even coloratura, as Agrippina heaps scorn on her unworthy son. Other highlights include some delicate bel canto from Porpora, and Sammartini’s dramatic “Deh, lasciami in pace” with its B-section closely following the text’s contrasting affects.

The centrepieces of the recording, however, both physically and musically, are the three Handel excerpts. Hearing them in this context, one is forcibly struck (as were the Venetian audiences of 1709) by their astonishing originality and dramatic power. “Pensieri”, with its jagged unison strings and keening solo oboe, still chills to the marrow – notice how its third and final refrain is condensed and concentrated as Agrippina makes up her mind. And who could resist the foot-tapping rhythm of “Ogni venti” or the catchy melody of “L’alma mia”?

Minasi and Il Pomo d’Oro provide splendidly spirited accompaniments, though a couple more upper strings would have been even better- they are sometimes a little outshone by the brass!

Alastair Harper

Alastair added re: performance: “would have been 5 with more strings!”