This is on the whole a splendid recording of the first oratorio of G F Handel, written in the early Italian years of the then young composer.
The music itself is very good - so good that the aria of Pleasure, 'Lascia la spina', was later recycled in the opera 'Rinaldo' as 'Lascia chi'o pianga'.
Rinaldo Alessandrini, in this first Handel recording of his, hired two British Handel 'specialists' to perform the roles of Beauty and Time respectively. British soprano Deborah York took the yoke of this performance as Beauty, singing almost half of the solo arias. Close up running to her is the character of Pleasure, sung here by Italian soprano Gemma Bertagnoli.
Alessandrini gave a well-thought out interpretation of this work, and the instrumental parts are truly sublime (listen to the terrific three-movement overture).
The instrumentation of Handel in this work truly demonstrates the genius that he was as they are being wonderfully woven with the vocal parts throughout the different recitatives and arias.
The story is deathly simple. The characters invovled are four representations of Beauty (soprano), Pleasure (boy soprano), Illusion (contralto) and Time (tenor). Beauty is lured by the boy Pleasure, with Illusion and Time offering timeous counselling.
The four soloists are very capable singers, particularly York and Mingardo, truly top-grained baroque specialists. The tenor Nicholas Sears is also highly competent.
The only quibble that I have with this recording is the not too successful combination of the voices of Beauty and Pleasure. While Beauty is supposedly a young girl and Pleasure a young man (boy), the choice of soprano voices for these characters in this casting left clear room for better choices.
York owns a crystalline timbre, one that excels in baroque repertoire, and she sings impeccably here, modulating her timbre to the different moods of the many arias. Her performance here is a real success. That said, coupling with her as Pleasure is Bertagnoli, whose soprano I am unable, in this recording at least, to recommend unreservedly.
Bertagonli's singing is at times wimpy and at times flat, with buccal vowels (just listen to that word 'pensiEr' to savour her dead-flat 'e' vowel) rendering her singing whitisth most of the time.
And the misfortune is that her timbre has a certain similarity with York's. As the tracks flow on the player, one gets mixed up who is Pleasure and who is Beauty, with Pleasure soiling Beauty in more casual listenings (without resorting to the libretto). This is a grave injustice to York, and scarcely a bonus to the entire recording.
As I said in my caption, however, 'leave the thorns; pluck the rose'.