Though Handel and Bach had a similar basic kapellmeister training, the two developed different responses to Lutheran sacred music. Handel does not seem to have been entirely comfortable in the musical genres of the Lutheran church though he remained a devout Lutheran (later Anglican). His main essay in the genre is his Brockes Passion which seems to have been performed in Hamburg in 1719. And there is a similar probably Hamburg link with Handel’s Neun Deutsche Arien. Composed between 1724 and 1726, they also set texts by Brockes. But here Handel is moving away from the Lutheran liturgy and providing vocal chamber music, different in style but akin to the Italian chamber duets which he wrote throughout his life.
On this new disc from Convivium Records, soprano Penelope Appleyard joins Florisma (Penelope Spencer, violin, Gail Hennessy, oboe, William Drakett, harpsichord/organ, Aileen Henry, triple harp, Hetti Price cello/viola da gamba, Michelle Holloway, recorder) to perform Handel’s Neun Deutsche Arien.
The surviving autograph of the arias does not specify the instrumentation, they are simply written for soprano, melody instrument and continuo, and could easily be performed on violin, harpsichord and cello. But though Handel may not have been entirely comfortable with the passion form, he clearly responded to Brockes’ texts and each aria has a different and specific character. So on this disc we get a variety of instrumentations with ‘Süsse Stille’ on tenor recorder and triple harp, ‘Das ziternde Glänzen’ on oboe, some of the more serious texts use organ and cello continuo and others use harpsichord and viola da gamba.
The results make for a charming variety, responding to the different characters of Handel’s movements. There might be a danger of the soloist being somewhat eclipsed by this technicolour approach. But there is no danger of that here.
Penelope Appleyard sings with a lovely flexible tone, combining purity with expressiveness. She is clearly technically adept, but she also brings great charm to the performances. Responding to both text and music, there is little danger here of baroque purity descending into cool boredom; we have fineness of tone combined with vibrant performance.
Appleyard is well supported by all the performers, and the way the arias are written means that she and the melody instruments create a series of delightful partnerships. Overall what these performances convey is a real sense of enjoyment in this lovely music.