George Frideric Handel wrote a lot more than a certain piece played to death in the month of December. During his stay in Rome, from 1707 to 1710, he composed many Italian cantatas and oratorios, mostly on secular subjects. These often exquisite, lesser-known works were the focus of the stellar American debut of the Italian early-music ensemble La Risonanza on Thursday night at the Library of Congress.
Founded by Fabio Bonizzoni in 1995, the group has recorded a fine set of the complete Italian cantatas of Handel, a project finished in 2009 for the Glossa label. Soprano Yetzabel Arias Fernandez brought a limpid tone, delectation of text, and expressive face and musical line to the solo part of both cantatas. Her embellishments on the da capo repeats of the arias of “Notte placida e cheta” were inventive and moving, especially the sighing touches in the aria “Zeffiretti, deh! venite.” Her voice, assured and dulcet from top to bottom, intertwined in a mesmerizing way with the string parts, although there was an extended (but not disastrous) disagreement in the opening accompagnato of “Dietro l’orme fugaci.”
Vivaldi concertos filled out the program, all suavely shaped and not obsessed with mindless virtuosity. Lead violinist Carlo Lazzaroni was at his best in an elegant and evocative performance of the “Summer” concerto from “The Four Seasons,” and flutist Marco Brolli was both delicate and sparkling in the Flute Concerto in G, Op. 10, No. 6. The program took note of both composers’ willingness to recycle their music: The final movement of Vivaldi’s sinfonia for “Dorilla in Tempe” reuses the ritornello of his “Spring” concerto’s first movement, and Handel reworked the instrumental parts of his Roman antiphon “Haec est regina virginum” later in London as the air of his “Water Music.”
Downey is a freelance writer.