ANDREW MANZE, RICHARD EGARR
Handel: Complete Violin Sonatas (Harmonia Mundi)
Whether G. F. Handel wrote all of these works remains unclear—only five of eight complete sonatas, plus two stand-alone movements, can be authenticated. Nor can we verify if the composer heard them performed by violin and harpsichord without a cello doubling the bass line. What is certain, however, is that the Gramophone award-winning team of Manze and Egarr has created another potential award winner.
This music is vital, alive, and thrilling. These artists understand that baroque composers expected musicians to improvise. Manze plays with incredible panache, alternating soulful sounds with others filled with joy and brio. The timbre of his 1782 violin offers an intriguing blend of sweetness tinged with a touch of metal. As paired with Egarr's sonorous copy of a 1707 harpsichord, the colors prove irresistible. Not even the addition of too much unnatural reverb can sabotage this triumph. Jason Serinus
Casta Diva (EMI)
With stars and glamour shots everywhere, the packaging of this disc indicates that EMI is determined to have soprano Angela Gheorghiu earn a place in the operatic firmament. The repertoire—classic bels canto Bellini, Rossini, and Donizetti—has Maria Callas written all over it. Gheorghiu mostly does an excellent job, though two arias fall flat. The voice is exceptionally beautiful and perfectly produced, with a dark sound that bespeaks drama and tragedy. The highs, although not always as free as the great Callas', are certainly less steely and more reliable. And there are myriad accents and shadings, all indications of a major artist.
When all is said and done, however, a singer must move you. Many are wowed by Gheorghiu. However, if you sense a veil, an impenetrable divahood as it were, that leads you to believe that Gheorghiu doesn't much feel what she's singing, know that you are not alone. Jason Serinus
The Second Circle: Love Songs of Francesco Landini
A warm welcome to the latest recording from Anonymous 4, the gifted American a cappella women's quartet that specializes in medieval repertoire. Ever since their initial releases, An English Ladymass and the award-winning On Yoolis Night, Anonymous 4 have distinguished themselves with exquisite singing, a purity of tone that makes ancient repertoire come alive. Even though one of their members has changed, the beauty and quality remain.
This time, Anonymous 4 turn their attention to Francesco Landini (1335-1397). Born in Florence, Landini transcended his blindness from childhood smallpox to master singing, play several instruments, and eventually become the chief musician of the church of San Lorenzo for over 30 years. Francesco was also a poet, and wrote some, if not most, of the texts to his very personal, two- and three-voice polyphonic love songs. This is gorgeous, involving music. Jason Serinus