Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno [An oratorio in two parts with a libretto by Benedetto Pamfili; Original 1707 version sung in Italian]
Bellezza (Beauty) Veronica Cangemi
Piacere (Pleasure) Ann Hallenberg
Disinganno (Enlightenment) Sonia Prina
Tempo (Time) Pavol Breslik
Le Concert dAstrée
Reviewed by: William Yeoman
Reviewed: 5 March, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Handel’s first oratorio “Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno” (The Triumph of Time and Enlightenment), set to a libretto by his patron Cardinal Benedetto Pamfili, was an astonishing tour de force for a 21-year-old composer recently arrived in Italy. And in terms of achievement, this performance by the stylish French outfit Le Concert d’Astrée just about equals Handel’s feat, with a display of instrumental and vocal artistry that was sometimes beyond belief.
It’s known that Handel had at his disposal some of the very finest musicians, including the leader of the Cardinal’s orchestra, none other than Arcangelo Corelli (the first and probably only performance was given at Pamfili’s private residence). The writing is thus highly virtuosic, with not only substantial obbligato parts for violin, oboe and cello but also vocal lines of extraordinary dramatic range and technical difficulty. All of which were brought to life with vividness and impeccable taste by the present performers.
Soprano Veronica Cangemi’s Bellezza was vocally the very embodiment of the part, at first full of insouciant virtuosity (the incredible vocal pyrotechnics of “Un pensiero nemico di pace” brought the house down), later dolorous and repentant (the final, poignant “Tu del Ciel ministro eletto” with its stratospheric tessitura). Sonia Prina’s Disinganno was vocally her equal, with the beautiful “Crede l’uom ch’egli riposi” eliciting a spontaneous outburst from the audience. Mezzo Ann Hallenberg was less successful, although the famous “Lascia la spina” was sung with a moving simplicity. If there was one slight disappointment, it was tenor Pavol Breslik, who lacked the superhuman vocal dexterity of his colleagues, although his “Urne voi, che racchiudete” was suitably dramatic and his part in the furious quartet “Voglio Tempo per risolvere” was excellent.
Both singers and instrumentalists were given wonderful support by Haïm, who directed the ensemble from the keyboards with a graceful abandonment and a keen ear for the drama inherent in Handel’s score. This was very much a French-inflected performance, with double-dotting, lively tempos and use of the cadential port-de-voix passim, and in many respects will be hard to better. I look forward to the promised CD version.