Kate Lindsey - Arianna - MusicWeb International

The fate of Ariadne, abandoned by Theseus after helping him to escape the Labyrinth, has often inspired composers. In addition to the three works here, Monteverdi composed an opera on the subject in 1608, now lost, though Ariadne’s Lament has been preserved, thanks to its popularity – the composer even adapted it as a lament for the Virgin Mary. Conradi (Ariadne) and Richard Strauss (Ariadne auf Naxos) turned her fate into operas and Handel’s rival, Porpora, composed Arianna a Naxos, an aria from which was included in a recent recital on the Arcana label.

There is only one other current recording of the Scarlatti, from Adriana Fernandez on CPO (7777482, with other Scarlatti secular cantatas). I don’t think there is any reason to prefer the CPO, other than the inclusion of other Scarlatti works.

Handel’s setting, probably also from 1707, can be found on a highly recommendable recording from Raffaella Milanesi, La Risonanza and Fabio Bonizzoni, on a single album of Cantatas for Cardinal Ottoboni (Glossa GCD921523) or in an 8-hour collection of Handel’s Italian Cantatas (GCD921528). The latter can be obtained for less than £40 on CD, so why does the least expensive lossless download cost over £55?

The whole of this Glossa series has elicited the highest praise – one volume was my Recording of the Month, but that stands for the whole series. If you believe Handel’s music from his Italian period to be preferable to that of his older contemporary Scarlatti – by no means an untenable position – you will prefer the Glossa recording, which also includes some other fine music. Indeed, there’s much to be said for obtaining the whole set.

I expected to have no problem in making the Glossa my top recommendation, but that was before I heard what Kate Lindsey, Arcangelo and Jonathan Cohen make of all three works. I expected much of the latter two, but I’d missed out on Lindsey’s earlier recording for Alpha, Thousands of Miles (Alpha 272: a double Recording of the Month). That featured very different, twentieth-century, repertoire, and I understand that the Composer in Strauss’s Ariadne is also one of her regular roles, but you would hardly imagine, after hearing the new recording, that she was anything other than a baroque specialist. Until, that is, you hear the Haydn and discover that she is equally at home in the music of the classical period.

The Handel, almost inevitably, sent me back to Dame Janet Baker, with the ECO and Raymond Leppard (Bach and Handel Solo Cantatas and Arias, Warner Gemini 3977322, download only). It’s not the only one of Baker’s virtues that her voice is ideal for Handel’s tragic heroines – and heroes – in that it possesses a tinge of melancholy even in, for example, her classic recording of Elgar’s Sea Pictures. Like the Elgar, her Handel should be permanently available; indeed, I wish there were more of it, like her embodiment of the mad scene from Orlando. And though Raymond Leppard’s accompaniment in baroque music could sometimes be wayward, he directs the ECO very well here. He was credited with editing the Handel works on this recording, but without tampering in the same way that he did with Cavalli’s operas, apart from some not undue decoration of the continuo.

The HMV recording was released soon after Baker, the ECO and Leppard had performed the music at the Queen Elizabeth Hall – a memorable occasion, by all accounts, and a memorable recording. The opening Sonata leaves very little to be desired, even by modern historically informed standards, and the first aria is emotionally charged in a way that one would think could not be matched, let alone bettered, though it might be thought that the tempo was a shade on the slow side to match that emotional charge.

It’s predictable that Arcangelo and Jonathan Cohen take the Sonata a shade faster and sound slightly lighter than Leppard’s ECO, but it comes as a surprise that Lindsey and Cohen take slightly longer than their predecessors in the opening aria. The contrast between the bright major-key opening and the following minor-key aria is all the greater.

Lindsey sounds quite different from Baker in a way that’s hard to describe; what can be said, however, is that the emotional commitment is different but equally valid and that, for all the extra half a minute, the emotion is never strained. And without suggesting that Janet Baker sounds unvaried here – or ever – I have to admit that Kate Lindsey injects more variety into the music. It’s certainly not ‘game, set and match’ to the new team, but it’s probably ‘advantage’ in their favour. Any recording that can do that really deserves high praise, especially as both Baker and Lindsey are singing a work that lies a little higher than usual for their voice types. There’s perhaps more vibrato than would suit all tastes, but there’s plenty of quiet stillness, too.

The change of style from Handel is very marked, but the music is equally intense, as is the performance. In places the music sounds almost like a Mozart opera, no doubt enhanced by the dramatic quality of the singing. Arleen Auger’s performance with the Handel and Haydn Society conducted by Christopher Hogwood comes with Berenice che fai? and the ‘Nelson’ Mass, a less tempting coupling, since for most of us it involves duplicating the ‘Nelson’ Mass – a work that’s available in good recordings at all prices – even though it offers a well filled all-Haydn album.

Auger sings beautifully and is well accompanied, but Lindsey is altogether more varied and dramatic. The smaller-scale accompaniment is more effective than on Decca, rounding off an album which I thought very impressive, and which encourages me to seek out more of her recordings. With very good sound quality – my wav copy offers the equivalent of CD sound, though there are also mp3 and 24-bit versions – this could well become part of my regular listening. Very informative notes enhance the value of this beautifully varied and dramatic singing of passionate music of loss.

MusicWeb International
20 February 2020