The Göttingen Handel Festival now regularly features smallish concerts in the regions surrounding the town, such as this featuring German mezzo-soprano Franziska Gottwald, performed in the delightful Johanniskirche at Rosdorf. This utterly enjoyable concert was enhanced by the participation of suave and charming Italian harpsichordist Francesco Cera. The programme alternated between three intense dramatic cantatas, and sprightly harpsichord solos.

Franziska Gottwald
Franziska Gottwald

The first of these was a brace of Domenico Scarlatti’s sonata movements, allegros from Sonata in D minor (K9), then Sonata in G major (K124), played with intricate precision.  The second was Domenico Paradisi’s 1754 Sonata no. 12 in C major, a delightful piece with some forward looking moments (one particular figure was used – consciously? – as the basis for a 1986 tune in an Australian film, Malcolm).

Porpora’s infrequently heard cantata Dal povero mio cor was the first item, displaying all the virtues of Gottwald’s magnificent voice. Hers is no ordinary mezzo instrument, but a rich, venue-filling phenomenon with a wide range and absolutely even production, from golden top notes to cavernous echoing deep ones, great projection, multi-hued colouring, warm resonance and flexibility, augmented with excellent diction. In the recitatives, the singer sang with great affect and dramatic timing. In the arias “Menzogniera dici spera” and “A’ scogli e rie procelle”, the latter being a thorough delight, Gottwald executed perfect, and perfectly placed, trills for emphasis at every point on the scale, with well articulated coloratura finishing with great gleaming high notes.

Handel’s far better known La Lucrezia draws on the quasi-historical story of the respectable Roman matron raped by the son of the last king of Rome, the Etruscan Lucius Tarquinius Superbus which is said to have precipitated the fall of the Roman monarchy and the beginning of the Republic. Handel’s cantata contains, in effect, the last words of Lucrezia denouncing the perpetrator before killing herself with a dagger (a moment perpetuated in visual art by Dürer, Cranach the Elder, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Titian and Gentilleschi... and that’s just a few). This mini-opera fared predictably well at Gottwald’s hands, with an intense dramatic opening, the aria “Già superbo” bringing despair and protest from the depths of Gottwald’s heart and voice, and ferocious intent evinced in the line of recitative “la mia vendetta”. One could continue to comment line by line, but suffice to say that Lucrezia’s continued journey to a more resigned state at the end was marked with the same exemplary musicality and commitment to the text.

Jumping into a later musical language, Gottwald performed, or rather emanated, Haydn’s Arianna a Naxos. Despite continuing with a harpsichord, the performers were nevertheless able to suggest early Classical rather than Baroque style. Here, Arianna’s  journey is from wide-eyed naivety and mild surprise at being unable to find her lover (“Teseo, dove sei?”), to starting to lose hope (“Dove sei? Teseo!”) to the wakening realisation that he has abandoned her on the island of Naxos (“Ei fugge, ei qui mis lascia in abbandono”), the beginning of anger (“Ingrato!”) through to full fury (“Misera abbandonata”). Again, every point on this continuum was marked with appropriate convincing emotion and matching musical affect. 

It is interesting to note that the last two vocal works were also heard sung by Anna Bonitatibus in Karlsruhe earlier this year. Using a completely different dramatic and to some extent musical approach, these works were performed with equal conviction and musical chops. This abundance of talented excellence in similar repertoire is truly something to celebrate in our day.