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II trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, H46a is Handel's first major work and first oratorio. This performance was recorded in 1988. Soloists are French soprano Isabelle Poulenard, British-Portuguese soprano Jennifer Smith; French contralto Nathalie Stutzmann and British tenor John Elwes. This is a relatively early recording of Les Musicians du Louvre under/ Marc Minkowski. Text and translation included, with English translation by British tenor Nigel Rogers.
The orchestra for the premiere was led by Corelli and according to Mainwaring, Handel's first biographer, Corelli had difficulty in grasping the style of its French overture whereupon Handel accommodatingly substituted a more Italianate 'Sonata' for his original.
Handel twice revised the work, once in 1737 at the Covent Garden Theatre, under the name 11 trionfo del Tempo e della Verita, and some 20 years later for performances in an English verse translation by Thomas More. Both revivals involved Handel in substantial revisions with the resetting of several numbers as choruses.
The choral element is, however, entirely absent from the present earliest version, consisting almost entirely of an alternating sequence of recitative and aria with occasional numbers for vocal ensemble. At the time of the Papal prohibition on operas in Rome, this would be considered the next best thing.
Cardinal Pamphili's text is rather lifeless; with an allegorical moral discourse between Beauty, Pleasure, Truth and Time. Nonetheless, this provided Handel with an opportunity to demonstrate his huge talent.
The artists respond affectionately and sometimes with insight to this delightful score. The vocal ensemble is quite a strong one. The two sopranos are outstanding (compared with Alessandrini's later recording with York and Bertagnoli, Poulenard and Smith really shine). Isabelle Poulenard is an engaging Bellezza (Beauty) and Jennifer Smith often affecting in her portrayal of Piacere (Pleasure). Less convincing, however, is Nathalie Stutzmann's Disinganno (Disillusion or free from illusion and thus Truth). She has a fine voice but her technique lacks the discipline of the other singers, with less reliable intonation, as in her aria "L'uomo sempre se stesso" from Part I. John Elwes as Tempo (Time) gives a splendid performance throughout; stylish, secure and sensible to the subtleties of Handel's music.
The delights of this score abound: in Part I, Time's "Urne voi" and Beauty's "Un pensiero nemico di pace" with its arresting B section continuo patterns. Part 2 is if anything even richer with Truth's "Phi non cora", slightly recalling the aria "Felicissima quest'alma" from Handel's cantata Apollo e Dafne of the same period, Pleasure's "Lascia la spina", a ravishing aria based upon an instrumental sarabande in Almira but most familiar as Almirena's aria "Lascia ch'io pianga" in the Second Act of Rinaldo (1711), and her brilliant "Come nembo- with its lively concertante writing for two violins and cello. Minkowski sets a cracking pace in this penultimate aria of the work, hardly allowing Jennifer Smith to get the better of Handel's exacting vocal line. Loveliest of all perhaps is the concluding aria of the oratorio, Beauty's "To del ciel ministro eletto"; it's a ravishing piece with a tender, elegiac violin solo, and Isabelle Poulenard sings it beautifully. If anything, Jennifer Smith's performance in this recording really marks the zenith of her illustrious career as an outstanding Handel soprano. Her Lascia la spina has to be heard to be believed - with a beautifully woven long legato musical line underlying the inflections and nuances, the music flowed like a stream of white light from heaven that enters directly into the souls of listeners. Her rendition is simply unsurpassed, in whatever version of this aria. In the final aria of Pleasure, Smith's coloratura is similarly jaw-dropping, with the young Minkowski not giving her one single moment of gasp with his crisp tempi.
Les Musiciens du Louvre play stylishly and with spirit and though there are evident weaknesses at times both in the violin and oboe playing. The organ is a concert ante instrument in two movements in Part 1 : a Sonata where the organ is accompanied by oboes and strings, the other is the aria which follows it where the organ shares prominence with unison violins and soprano voice. These passageworks simply showcased the young Handel as a noted keyboard virtuoso. Emmanuel Mandrin, the organist in this performance, brings it off with panache on an attractive sounding chamber instrument but with a slight discrepancy in pitch between organ and strings.
The recorded sound has a close balance. The oboes stood out with artificial prominence; but the voices still come over well with clear textures and lively enough acoustic.