Handel Uncaged: Cantatas for Alto

Handel Uncaged: Cantatas for Alto
Lawrence Zazzo
Guillermo Brachetta, Jonathan Manson, Andrew Maginley
Resonus/Inventa Records INV1002. 74’26


This nicely-planned programme brings together cantatas for alto voice and continuo from Handel’s remarkably productive early years in Italy. The principal item is the world premiere recording of the conglomerate cantata Amore Uccellatore. This combines two cantatas, Venne voglia (HWV 176) and Vendendo amore (HWV 175) together with an additional sequence of recitatives and arias into a single cycle of ten arias. It is from an anonymous manuscript in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge that has only recently been credited with reasonable confidence to Handel.

The programme opens with three short cantatas, the 1707 Udite il mio consiglio (HWV 172), a premiere recording of Handel’s shorter version for alto, and a neat pairing of Stanco di più soffrire (HWV 167a) with Figli del mesto cor (HWV 112). Although, unlike the pairing of Venne voglia and Vendendo more, there is no evidence that Handel ever intended these to be combined, but it makes a very satisfactory textural combination with the loss of love in Stanco di più soffrire and the subsequent lament in Figli del mesto cor. The two are separated by an attractive little improvisation à la Handel by harpsichordist Guillermo Brachetta.

Amore Uccellatore (Cupid the Birdcatcher) gives the CD its name of Handel Uncaged. The rather suggestive text is narrated by a male bird who is being pursued by Cupid and five woman, all trying to catch him through various means. He is caught and escapes three times, but finally, at the third attempt, they manage to pull off his tail, leaving him emasculated. The five women and Cupid decide that a male without a ‘tail’ is not worth the bother, and go off in search other, rather better endowed, males. 

The whole programme of the four cantatas is performed straight through as a potential recreation of an ‘entertainment’, with well-chosen and well-played instrumental interludes from Guillermo Brachetta and Andrew Maginley on harpsichord and theorbo. Jonathan Manson provides beautifully sensitive continuo accompaniments on cello and viola da gamba. 

The choice of music and the instrumentalist are excellent, so it is a shame that I found the singing of Lawrence Zazzo far less satisfying, particularly as the recording is clearly a promotional one, with the notes all written by the singer. The first issue is perhaps a personal one for me. Regular readers of my reviews will have spotted that I am not a fan of vocal vibrato in early music. Zazzo sings with a persistent and uncontrolled wobble that wreaks havoc with intonation, melodic line, and ornamentation. Ornamentation is noticeably absent in many occasions when most early music singers would naturally add ornaments in period style, and I do wonder if more could be made of the humorous and dramatic aspects of the text.  

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