They played enemies in Alan Curtis’s recording of Ariodante, but French-Canadian Baroque specialists Karina Gauvin and Marie-Nicole Lemieux make a happier pair in this collaboration, a selection of arias and duets from Handel’s English oratorios.
Handel ceased composing opera in 1741 and turned his hand instead to sacred vocal music. There’s a transcendent quality to these later works, befitting their pious status, but Handel was a man of the theatre, and never lost his knack for drama. Gauvin and Lemieux are well placed to strike that balance, bringing ravishing beauty and drama to these excerpts.
In duet, Gauvin’s pearly soprano contrasts ecstatically with Lemieux’s billowing contralto: the voices blend gorgeously without being subsumed within one another. Welcome as the dawn of day, a sensual love duet between Solomon and his Queen, is an especial delight. Lemieux can stray towards bluster in a militant role, as in Cyrus’s Destructive war from Belshazzar, but to calmer music – As with rosy steps the morn, for instance – she brings a tremulous and earthy beauty.
Gauvin is even better, singing with luscious tone, silken phrasing and keen emotional instincts. Her solo arias are some of the disc’s finest moments: My father! Ah! Methinks I see, from Hercules in particular is a tour de force.
But it is their vivid and passionate duetting which forms the heartbeat of this album: a collaboration made even more fruitful by the participation of Il Complesso Barocco under Alan Curtis, whose playing is sensitive and colourful throughout.