Karina Gauvin is a seasoned Baroque soprano who has worked with most of the major conductors in the field and has a considerable discography to her credit. For the Halle Handel Festival, she partnered with a relatively new French ensemble, Le Concert de la loge, led from the violin by Julien Chauvin in a generous programme. This recital was a tribute to her musicality, theatricality and compelling stage presence.

Karina Gauvin and Le Concert de la loge © Stiftung Händel-Haus
Karina Gauvin and Le Concert de la loge
© Stiftung Händel-Haus

The programme comprised an excellent selection of arias from the German, Italian and French Baroque, as well as Handel. There were also instrumental selections, including Telemann’s Concerto in E minor (TWV 52:e3, but sometimes attributed to Heinichen). This is quite an intricate work and was played with finesse, but a little too loudly in places, somewhat drowning out the excellent flautist Tami Krausz. This also occurred occasionally with the vocals. Vivaldi’s Violin concerto RV 317 also received an outing, with a nice accelerando near the end.

The programme began with an aria by Keiser, “Mir gefällt in seinem Munde” from the Schauspiel Croesus. Gauvin entered after the ritornello was well under way, prowling about and looking preoccupied. As soon as she opened her mouth you realised you were in the presence of a real operatic soprano, not the thin-toned sort who sometimes turn up in Baroque repertory. Her voice and presence are commanding, and she is on top of all the technical tricks of 18th-century decorative singing. She has developed rather more vibrato over recent years, so her vocal line is not always as clear as it might be.

After tossing off arias by Graupner and Alessandro Scarlatti with strong dramatic impact, she homed in on some Handel, with “Geloso tormeno” from Almira with a haunting oboe solo (Jasu Moisio). This is a slow aria demanding measured and controlled but intense singing, which it certainly received, with more intensity in the unaccompanied opening of the da capo. After a crisp rendition of the overture to Ottone, the first half concluded with “Furie terribili”, the short scary entrance of the sorceress Armida in Rinaldo, sung here as it should be sung. Gauvin stalked around the front row of the audience (there is not much stage in the Aula) and let fly, hand outstretched and emitting penetrating tone with a grim smile.

Karina Gauvin and Le Concert de la loge © Stiftung Händel-Haus
Karina Gauvin and Le Concert de la loge
© Stiftung Händel-Haus

The second half began with more Handel, Agrippina’s insincere promise to Poppea, “Non ho cor che per amarti”, with a venomous reading of the text in the da capo. After some Vivaldi, another excellent Handel portrayal was manifested in Alcina’s “Ah mio cor” with more dramatic commitment and quite a traversal of moods through to the last word. For something completely different we then had an aria from Rameau’s satirical Platée, in which La Folie exhorts the denizens of Olympus to enjoy themselves. Gauvin launched into this with great brio, menacing the concertmaster/conductor and causing him to retreat, and ending in shrieks of laughter.

Gauvin dedicated Handel’s “Will the sun forget to streak” from Solomon to the late Alan Curtis, for whom she had sung many times, and a beautiful and sincere rendition it was. Thunderous applause managed to elicit the encore, “Lascia ch’io pianga” from Rinaldo, not exactly an original choice, but equally beautiful and heartfelt with tasteful decoration in the da capo.

****1