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NewClassical → Amore x Amore  

Amore x Amore

Artist: Forma Antiqva
Forma Antiqva - Amore x Amore CD
Label: Winter & Winter
Regular Price: $16.95
On Sale For: $8.48 
Year: 2009
Format: CD

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Viaggio in Italia – Journey to Italy

There are journeys that change one's life: we all know this either from our own experience, or from that of others. Without his long stay in Italy, which influenced his crucial years of study, Handel would never have become the composer we know today. "A man who has not been in Italy is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see": thus writes Samuel Johnson. Just 20 years old, Handel makes the trip to Italy, "the land where lemons grow", to cite Goethe's later poem, a destination that had left its mark on travellers from the cold North, and would continue to do so in the future. The composer left Hamburg with an invitation from the Tuscan prince Gian Gastone de' Medici to visit his country, since "There is certainly no place in the world, where a man may travel with greater pleasure and advantage than in Italy", as Joseph Addison noted, a country "where [music] has been cultivated with such success; and from whence the rest of Europe has been furnished, not only with the most eminent composers and performers, but even with all its ideas of whatever is elegant and refined in that art.", as Charles Burney wrote in the introduction to his work "The Present State of Music in France and Italy".

After the first obligatory sojourn in Florence. Handel arrived in Rome at the beginning of 1707, as one can learn from a matching entry on January 14th in the diary of his contemporary Francesco Valesio: "A Saxon has come to town, an excellent master of the harpsichord and the organ, who put his art to the test today by playing the organ at San Giovanni [in Laterano], to the great admiration of all present." Handel remained in Italy for three years, including long periods in Florence, Venice and Naples, but the most important contacts and the largest number of works were made in Rome. Nobility and cardinals – often one and the same – gave the best commissions, and some, like Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili, accorded Handel such extraordinary treatment (let's remember the explicit text of his cantata "Hendel, non può mia musa", which praises him as "greater than Orpheus") that one would have good reason to talk of a barely concealed homo-erotic attraction to the composer.

Handel came to Italy as a promising, ambitious young composer bursting with talent, and left it as a mature composer, permanently impregnated with the light and the vocal art of Italy. Some of the great works written during these significant years in his development (La Resurrezione, Dixit Dominus, Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno, Aci, Polifemo e Galatea, Rodrigo…) are performed regularly by musicians in variable interpretations, especially in this Handel anniversary year. But his cantatas are the great unknowns in his output, within which it is precisely these works that emerge as an important test bed for his music. Handel's vocal style, which made him one of the most celebrated composers of his day in Europe, was developed in a genre which on the one hand allowed him to produce great spontaneity via the text, and on the other hand allowed him to investigate and experiment with unusual harmonies, always with the aim of conveying through music precisely what the words implied. For as long as he needed the support of aristocratic patrons, both in Italy and later in London, Handel composed almost exclusively for private concerts; more than a hundred such works have come down to us. Once his triumphs allowed him greater independence, and he made his symbolic move to Brook Street, the production of these works came to an end, and from then on he concentrated mainly on writing operas, and subsequently oratorios. Handel had left his existence as a court composer behind him, and turned into a bold entrepreneur, making him quite the opposite of his contemporaries Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti.

About 60 of these cantatas have no specifications of instrumentation beyond a figured bass: a further indication that these works of art are more concerned with minute details that can only be perceived in intimate surroundings than with art in the spotlight. Research is based on two principal contemporary sources: the manuscripts, which comprise a part of the celebrated Santini collection and are located in the Diocesan Library in Münster, and the Legh Collection at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The discrepancies between both holdings, and other secondary sources, partly involving different vocal ranges (contralto and soprano, as in "Lungi da me" and "Nel dolce tempo") have for years separated specialists into opposing camps, right down to questions of dating, and place of composition (Italy or England), with great temporal divergencies in ordering the various compositions: new proof that the "Italian Handel" was a lasting phenomenon, both in revised versions and in the original works, going way beyond questions of where he was living. There are characteristic common factors in the cantatas written in Italy (three of them included in the present recording – "Clori degli occhi miei", "Nel dolce tempo" and "Lungi da me" – are in flat keys, and begin consistently with a recitative), whereas the cantatas composed in England invariably have the form Aria – Recitative – Aria ("Ho fuggito" and "Dolc'è pur d'amor l'affanno"), have a bolder tonal plan, and have no accidentals: "Dolc'è pur d'amor l'affanno" begins in E flat and ends in E minor, while "Ho fuggito" goes from A minor to D major. In contrast, "Nel dolce tempo" begins and ends in the same key.

The realisation of this chamber-music Handel necessarily calls for an intimate instrumentation, requiring not pure virtuosity but good mutual understanding and constant attention in interpreting an almost minimalist style of composition, in which nothing is of secondary importance. Winter & Winter has entrusted this task to a young ensemble, Forma Antiqva, which marks the Munich label's first collaboration with Spanish musicians. Despite the country's rich legacy, and several individual exceptions, the interpretation of early music in Spain has only developed slowly, and is still in a backward condition compared to its European neighbours, but Forma Antiqva constitutes the tip of a spear from which things could start to change. The work of the three Zapico brothers with Forma Antiqva inevitably recalls the Kuijkens from Belgium, and in the youngest generation the Ashby sisters who form part of the excellent group Stile Antico. Through their presence, Pablo, Daniel and Aarón Zapico guarantee a rich, flexible, well-tempered basso continuo, a sure sense of style in both recitatives and arias, unlimited tone-colours and a capacity for improvisation that is surely indispensable in Handel cantatas, where the continuo is one of the two pillars supporting the whole construction. Sensitivity to sound and a free approach to the not uncontested art of improvisation (which Handel himself cultivated excelled in) result in a powerful, lively and unusual version of the famous first movement of the organ (or harp) concerto Op. 6 No. 4, with a particularly eloquent continuo, and a particularly insightful treatment of the familiar passacaglia from the Suite in G minor originally written for harpsichord, and realised here on three plucked instruments.

This first Spanish 'commitment' by Winter & Winter is completed by the participation of the young singer Xavier Sabata: a further favourable sign for Spain, which can certainly produce highly expressive countertenors, since Sabata possesses everything that is needed for these cantatas: clear diction, imagination, passion, engagement, concentration and the power of conviction. Thanks to him, the epoch of Spanish 'sopranisti', who enjoyed well-deserved fame throughout Euope, and inspired many to undertake their own personal 'Viaggio in Italia', has made its way back into our consciousness.

ARTISTS
All compositions by Georg Friedrich Händel

Forma Antiqva, Aaron Zapico, Xavier Sabata

TRACKS
1. - 3. Ho fuggito (HWV 118)
Cantata for alto and basso continuo

4. Organ Concerto in Bb major N° 6, op. 4 (HWV 294)
(transcription for harpsichord solo, viola da gamba, guitar, theorbo and archlute)
Andante Allegro

5. - 10. Lungi da me, pensier tiranno! (HWV 125b)
Cantata for alto and basso continuo

11. - 12. Violin sonata in D minor (HWV 359a)
(transcription for viola da gamba solo, guitar, theorbo, archlute and harpsichord)
Grave, Allegro

13. - 16. Nel dolce tempo (HWV 135b)
Cantata for alto and basso continuo

17. Harpsichord Suite N° 7 in G minor (HWV 432)
(transcription for theorbo, archlute and guitar)
Passacaille

18. - 21. Clori, degli occhi miei (HWV 91a)
Cantata for alto and basso continuo

22. - 23. Violin sonata in D minor (HWV 359a)
(transcription for viola da gamba solo, guitar, theorbo, archlute and harpsichord)
Adagio, Allegro

24. - 26. Dolc'è pur d'amor l'affanno (HWV 109a)
Cantata for alto and basso continuo
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