2014 Vancouver Early Music
Date and Venue 7 August, 2014, 7.30pm | Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, UBCReviewer Elizabeth Paterson
It is always a treat to listen to an early work by a composer and hear the beginnings of greatness. Exuberant and sensual, Il trionfo del tempo shows the 22-year old Handel leaping into the world, already demonstrating his skill at exhibiting virtuoso work and exploring emotional depths, at drawing character, at dramatic pacing and contrast, at gripping the general listener and interesting the professional, even at recycling pieces already used.
In the early 1700’s Handel went to Rome to study Italian music. He quickly found patrons in high places including Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili, philosopher, theologian, writer and music lover, who also wrote the libretto and perhaps produced the original performance. It takes the form of an allegorical debate. Bellezza (Beauty), gazing into a mirror, reflects on what will happen to her with time. Piacere (Pleasure) swears her beauty will be lasting, but Tempo (Time) and Disinganno (Dis-illusion) enter the argument and tell her it will fade. Pleasure challenges the other three to see who has the most power.
Bellezza (Amanda Forsythe) at first sides with Piacere, (Krisztina Szabó), the two singers dazzling in a joyful and virtuoso display of coloratura, ‘Il voler nel fior.’’ Both singers showed great versatility from the lullaby-like 'Chiudi, chiud'i to the furious 'Come nembo' (Szabó) and from the heedless 'Un pensiero' to the troubled 'Voglio cangiar desio' (Forsythe).
Handel does not play down the attractions Piacere has to offer, giving her some of the most seductive music with the melting ‘Lascia la spina’ (better known from the later Rinaldo where it appears as ‘Lascia ch'io pianga’, but already being recycled from the earlier Almira). Pleasure’s palace too is an oasis of beauty in art and music, where a gorgeous organ solo, splendidly played by Alexander Weimann, takes centre stage.
The more lasting but more difficult rewards of accepting the passage of Time and of facing the truth are not given short shrift. Tempo (Colin Balzer) has an array of persuasions ranging from the heart-dropping Gothic ‘Urne voi’ and the restless ‘Nasce l’uomo’ through the stormy ‘Folle, dunque’. Balzer was frightening, irascible and persuasive by turns, but with a constant rich beauty of tone.
To Disinganno is given more gentle persuasion, perfectly suited to Reginald E. Mobley’s haunting, eloquent voice. Mobley’s opening unaccompanied aria ‘Se la bellezza’ dripped with grief. Tender in the unrelenting ‘Crede l’uom,’ warm and compassionate in the lyrical pastoral ‘Piu non cura’, he was irresistible
Probably Handel was adept also at writing for the talents of musicians at hand. Certainly the musical world in Rome in the early 1700’s was full of stars and starring parts were played by the two oboists Matthew Jennejohn and Curtis Foster, whether on oboes or more dulcet recorders. There was splendid work too from the cellos, Beiland Zhu and Nathan Whittaker, Sylvain Bergeron on lute and Hank Knox’s harpsichord. The Pacific Baroque Orchestra under the precise and humane guidance of Alexander Weimann played like angels.
Handel saved the best to last. The final aria, Bellezza’s profoundly moving ‘Tu del ciel,’ was sung with crystalline purity by Amanda Forsythe. It is accompanied only by the solo violin, originally perhaps played by the great Arcangelo Corelli, but this time played with incandescent beauty by Chloe Meyers.
© 2014 Elizabeth Paterson