HANDEL 9 German Arias (Siedlaczek)
Handel composed very little music on texts in his native German tongue. The most notable examples are settings of poetry by Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747), a Hamburg town councillor who had known Handel since they were both students at the University of Halle in 1702. Nevertheless, it was after Handel had settled permanently in London that he set Brockes’s Passion oratorio Der für die Sünde der Welt gemarterte und sterbende Jesus (c1716) and nine devout poems from the same author’s Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott, bestehend in Physicalisch- und Moralischen Gedichten (second edition, 1724).
Wolfgang Katschner unusually programmes the so-called Nine German Arias alongside rearrangements of selections from the Brockes-Passion. The Lautten Compagney’s specialism in plucked continuo instruments and penchant for copious artistic licence results in a colourful assortment of numerous continuo instruments (including two lutes and anachronistic harp). Ina Siedlaczek’s slightly pinched, girlish timbre lacks compassionate warmth (‘Süsse Stille’ is tranquil enough but does not convey serene consolation), although she makes up for it with admirably restrained embellishments and affectionate communication of the poetry. I enjoyed her airy shaping of melodic contours in ‘Meine Seele hört im Sehen’ but was less enamoured by the whimsical alternation between oboe and violin for the solo obbligato part, and the tinkering capriciously with continuo instrumentation during the B section; the solo obbligato part in ‘Das zitternde Glänzen der spielenden Wellen’ is recomposed for both oboe and flute, including passages featuring both together that contain plenty of notes that Handel certainly did not write. The most persuasive moment is when Siedlaczek and violinist Daniel Deuter are left to weave their sweetly persuasive spell without undue interventionism (‘Die ihr aus dunklen Grüften’), but overall these superficially attractive performances lack aesthetic coherence.
Florilegium more sensibly intersperse the Nine German Arias between a couple of trio sonatas and an obscure D minor chamber ‘concerto’; the latter survives in the library of Count Schönborn in Wiesentheid but its attribution to Handel is surely spurious. The continuo duo of cellist Jennifer Morsches and harpsichordist Terence Charlston (on a 1766 Kirchman instrument that belonged to Christopher Hogwood) play with beguiling refinement, and flautist Ashley Solomon and violinist Bojan Čičić play with judicious melodiousness and delicacy (especially in a breathtaking performance of the Largo in Op 2 No 1). Florilegium’s expert chamber-playing also pervades the arias, but the effectiveness of these is diminished by Gillian Keith’s quick vibrato and self-conscious ornamentation. Solomon’s flute playing is quietly rapturous in its illustration of nature imagery in ‘Meine Seele hört im Sehen’ (Morsches’s idea to use pizzicato for the bass line works beautifully in tandem with Charlston’s lightly tripping harpsichord realisation), whereas Cˇi∂ic´’s supple violin has rapier-like finesse in ‘Das zitternde Glänzen’. Nevertheless, the incongruity of Florilegium’s musical intelligence with Keith’s quivery tension yields disappointing results.