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Triumph Of Time And Truth
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Oratorio en trois actes / La Beauté : Gillian Fisher - le Mensonge : Emma Kirkby - la Vérité : Charles Brett - le Plaisir : Ian Partridge - le Temps : Stephen Varcoe - The London Handel Choir - The London Handel Orchestra, dir. Denys Darlow
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The task in this case surely can't have inspired Morell much. To call the theme, such as it is, of the work platitudinous would be insulting to platitudes. Time passes, we are solemnly informed, with its familiar adverse effects on beauty. The carrot of immortality is dangled rather half-heartedly, and beauty (or rather Beauty) has to choose between resignation to the beast Time or further dalliance with Pleasure, choosing of course the former as was politically correct and edifying to do at that period. With this for a text one thing is for certain - the music had better be good.
Fortunately it is very good indeed. The very fact that Handel resurrected the work in one form or another not once but twice surely suggests that he thought well of it. If so, I agree. The style has far more in common with his later English style than with such early works as the Dixit Dominus or the Brockes Passion, which are much more in the German manner as we know that from Bach. Assuming that much of the music actually does date from that period, it suggests to me that Handel was already developing a new style for secular music very early in his career. Nothing in the galumphing portentousness of the text (`Pleasure! My former ways resigning,/To Virtue's cause inclining,/Thee, Pleasure, now I leave' and similar balderdash) seems to have placed a dampener on his inspiration, which is as fresh as paint from beginning to end. The performance seems very good to me too. It is a `period' performance, and I am rather sorry that no credits are given to the instrumentalists. The vocalists are well-known experts in early 18th century music for the most part, although Ian Partridge as Pleasure is probably better known in the 19th century repertory. His voice has deepened since I first heard him in Schubert's mill songs, and it is probably fair to say that it has coarsened just a little, but his artistry is impeccable and he fits in very well with the rest of the cast. Emma Kirkby is here as Deceit, a fairly small part seemingly added in 1758, Charles Brett has the countertenor role of `Counsel, or Truth', but the stars, for me, are Gillian Fisher as Beauty and maybe most of all Stephen Varcoe as Time.
The recording, from 1982, gives me no problems at all, and the liner essay, by Watkins Shaw, is downright good. Don't let the work's title put you off it. The real triumph here is the triumph of beauty and pleasure.
George Frederick Handel(1685-1759) was an international German who wrote like an Italian and became a naturalized Englishman in 1726. During the 10 years from 1720 to 1730, Handel was to London what Lully had been to Paris. At the Royal Academy of Music he directed, engaged the singers, and wrote 15 successful operas.
One might say that he was forced into writing oratorios, supposedly because 'The Beggar's Opera' came to London, and it was spicy, satirical, and off-color,and charmed the audiences. Italian opera was lampooned in the press, and Handel with it. He had to regain his prestige, and decided to do so by way of the oratorio. at which he became very successful. In fact the English Passion for the oratorio is largely due to Handel. From 1738 to 1751, he produced one each year. Handel's oratorios, more dramatic than any previously written, are like operas, but without scenery and costumes.
The 'Triumph of time and truth' was brought out by Handel in March 1757 at Covent Garden Theatre, London. It all began in 1712, and evolved over a period of 50 years, and ultimately drew from more than twenty of Handel's compositions. As to the character of the work, it draws from Handel's gentle, sometimes dream-like music as befits the unreality of the personages; and does not present a drama or penetrate deeply into each character. It contains a quantity of high quality music of much delight which can be appreciated for what it is without predispositon to seek in it some exalted experience.
There are 5 characterizations: Beauty (Gillian Fisher-soprano); Time(Stephen Varcoe-bass); Deceit(Emma kirkby-soprano);Pleasure (Ian Partridge-tenor);and Counsel or Truth(Charles Brett-countertenor). Beauty , admiring herself in a mirror, wishes she could arrest the passage of Time, whereupon Pleasure promises that her charms shall never fade. Counsel advises Beauty to follow Truth, warning that youth does not last. At this , Pleasure initiates a trial: Who shall give the victory, Pleasure, Beauty, Time or Counsel? In the midst of the arguments, Deceit intervenes. And so it goes!!! It's quite entertaining and not difficult to follow, and the music is delightful as Handel can be most of the time.
When I first became aware of this double disc from Hyperion records, the soloist's names impressed me greatly, for they are all notables in the area of vocal music. Consider the fact that this oratorio was recorded in London in October,1983, and all of them are still singing very well indeed!!!!! I have always been especially fond of the two sopranos: Gillian Fisher and Emma Kirkby; both have crystal-clear voices accompanied by excellent diction and accurate pitch. The men herein are just as accomplished. The London Handel Choir and London Handel Orchestra do a creditable job with the accompaniment and instrumental solos, and all of this pulled together very skillfully by the conductor Denys Darlow.
According to the liner notes, "an old idea was that [this work] presented us with a conspectus of a great composer's work, stretching from his youth to shortly before his death. This must be abandoned." Not so fast, I say. Just listen to the music. So much of it is sprightly, sometimes wistful, sometimes dreaming: a young man's vision of nymphs disporting themselves in a leafy glade. When we reach the end of the oratorio, the music finally does grow old as Beauty sadly decides to reform: "Guardian angels, oh, protect me,/ And in Virtue's path direct me,/ While resigned to Heaven above./ Let no more this world deceive me,/ Nor let idle passions grieve me,/ Strong in faith, in hope, in love." Only at the very end, do we hear the Handel of "Sampson" and "Theodora," Handel of the Old Testament, Handel of the martyrs and saints.
The London Handel Choir and Orchestra performs up to its usual high standards in this recording, in turn lively and somber as Beauty, Deceit, Time, Pleasure, and Counsel (Truth) argue their various positions. English soprano, Gillian Fisher sings a delicate Beauty with lovely trills and, toward the end, sweet resignation as she vows to pass her days in sacred solitude. Countertenor, Charles Brett sings a reliable, stodgy Counsel (Truth). He is the hardest soloist to understand because of the high range of his voice, but when understood, he comes across as a sort of Baroque Polonius, always spouting boring platitudes. Soprano, Emma Kirkby sings a lyrical Deceit. Although she has very little music to sing, her aria "Melancholy" is one of the highlights of this CD set. Tenor, Ian Partridge is persuasive in his role as Pleasure. If I had been Beauty, I would have taken his advice and given Counsel the boot. Bass, Stephen Varcoe stalks across the landscape as Time. He gleefully reminds Beauty of what she's going to look like in a few years ("Loathsome urns, disclose your treasure"). I think Handel's librettist borrowed from Shakespeare for Time's most powerful lines: "The hand of Time pulls down/ The great colossus of the sun,/ The stone-built castle, cloud-capt tower,/ And shall Beauty oppose my power?"
Yes, Time and Truth are ultimately triumphant, but not before we hear Handel at his most charming in this wonderful recording.
Su primera composición "El triunfo del tiempo y el desengaño" (1707) fue escrita en Roma, narra el triunfo del tiempo y la vberdad sobre las tentaciones del placer y la belleza.
Medio siglo pasa a ser su última obra coral, la nueva versión que tituló El Triunfo del Tiempo y la Verdad, con libreto en Inglés. Esta grabación esta maravillosamente concedida, creo que también vale la pena escuchar la versión en italina que la he encontrado bajo el sello Naxos, aunque de menor calidad que esta interpretación.
Gheorghita Geana (Bucharest)
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