This coming Tuesday (December 10) the American Bach Soloists (ABS) will release their latest recording (currently available for pre-order from Amazon.com). The three works on this CD are all sacred compositions by George Frideric Handel, all of which involve bravura writing for the solo soprano voice. The featured soloist is coloratura Mary Wilson, performing under Music Director Jeffrey Thomas with the ABS instrumentalists and, for one of the compositions, the American Bach Choir singing in five parts.
Of greatest interest is likely to be a setting of the Gloria text from the Mass, scored for soprano, violins (in two sections), and continuo. This music was only discovered in 2001; and, while it has been authenticated, it has not yet been assigned a number in the Händel-Werke-Verzeichnis (HWV). Little is known about this music; but the prevailing opinion is that Handel composed it for the Marchese Francesco Maria Ruspoli, possibly while Handel was living as Ruspoli’s country estate in the spring of 1707. This would have been while Handel was based in Rome between 1706 and 1710. With its limited instrumentation, the music tends to lack much of the spectacle often associated with the spirit of glorification in the text; but that provides more opportunities to appreciate how that spirit is realized through the solo soprano line.
The earlier of the other two pieces on this recording was also composed during Handel’s time in Rome in 1707. It is the HWV 237 Laudate, pueri, Dominum, a setting of Psalm 113, probably composed for a Vespers service, since it concludes with a setting of the doxology. This is the selection in which Wilson is joined by the American Bach Choir; and a pair of oboes is added to the strings, arranged in two sections for both violins and violas. This composition offers a bit more of the “sonorous spectacle” that is missing in the more modest Gloria setting; and the music offers some excellent examples of Handel’s skill in working with multiple vocal lines.
The later piece, Silete venti (HWV 242), was probably composed in London between 1724 and 1730. The text, which begins “Silence, ye winds,” is a poem (author unknown) describing the peace that comes with the love of Jesus, concluding with an ecstatic “Alleluia.” The major portion of the motet consists of two da capo arias, each of which has been structured to enhance the emotional depth of the soul’s commitment to Jesus. However, it is clear that Handel was going for the showiness of that final “Alleluia,” which Wilson performs with delightful precision, always fitting in perfectly with Thomas’ overall sensitivity to Handel’s rhetoric, as well as the overall logic of his scores.