Handel’s finest arias for base voice II

Christopher Purves, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
hyperion CDA68152

Less celebrated than Handel’s succession of castrato singers were a string of equally talented basses who animated a series of Handel’s most memorable characters from his early operas to his late oratorios, and there is even an early Italian Cantata for Bass voice performed here with considerable flair by Purves. This latter work is one of those showpieces for a singer with an extended range from pedal bass notes to high baritone, and Purves copes admirably with the extreme demands. I was unfamiliar with this piece, but also with many of the other arias here. If asked to anticipate what music would have been included, off the top of my head I would have suggested ‘O Ruddier than the Cherry’, ‘The Trumpet shall sound’ and ‘Revenge, Timotheus cries’ and then I would have been floundering. In fact, the present performers had already included two of my suggestions in the widely acclaimed volume I, of which this is the excellent follow-up, and this time they range far and wide among the less familiar operas and the oratorios, coming up with some superb music. Christopher Purves has a wonderfully expressive voice bringing a wide range of lamenting, revenging and wooing characters vividly to life against the wonderfully responsive backdrop of the orchestral forces of Arcangelo directed by Jonathan Cohen. This impressive and entertaining collection has sent me back to oratorios such as Joshua and Esther, and brings home (yet again) how much fine Handel vocal music there is. Christopher Purves’s powerful artistry emphasizes how much of it is for bass voice – and they haven’t even touched upon Samson yet. I sense a volume III coming on!

D. James Ross

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