HANDEL: ITALIAN SECULAR CANTATAS -- Cori, mia bella Clori (HWV 92); Armida Abbandonata (HWV 105); Delirio Amoroso (HWV 99)
Ann Murray, mezzo-soprano/The Symphony of Harmony and Invention/Harry Christophers, cond.
Collins Classics 155032 (F) (DDD) TT: 67:26  (THIS CD HAS BEEN DELETED)

Some say it makes no difference whether Handel's cantatas are sacred or secular -- the music sounds the same. True. However, that music is so glorious no lover of Baroque ornamentation and long-line phrasing should miss this Collins collection holding three secular cantatas sung by mezzo- soprano Ann Murray. The three cantatas, composed during Handel's Italian residency (1706-10), cover all manner of moral mischief so popular in the courts of Rome and Venice. Clori, mia bella Clori boasts one of Handel's favorite (and most memorable) arias, "Mie pupille," which he liked so much that he "sacredized" it as the solo in the Chandos anthem The Lord Is My Light. Equally moving is "Ah! Crudele" from Armida Abbandonata.

Mezzo-soprano Murray is at her best when spinning pianissimos over long phrases. Her tone tends to spread during fast fioritura, and a bothersome vibrato sometimes takes over. Throughout, the Symphony of Harmony and Invention conducted by Harry Christophers provides sympathetic support. Highly recommended. For the Handel set featuring the most beautiful soprano singing, EMI's Alcina, unfortunately currently not in the catalog, showcases the late, great Arleen Augér, and is a "must buy" if you can find it.

K.S. (Nov. 2000)