Silete Venti; Laudate Pueri Dominum; Gloria
American Bach Soloists & American Bach Choir, J. Thomas. Texts and translations online only. ABS 885007456063
The luminous American soprano Mary Wilson, who spearheads three of Handel's sacred vocal works on this new release from American Bach Soloists, doesn't impose a domineering personality on the music; she seems more like its humble servant. She just happens to be an unusually gifted servant. Her light, alluring, velvety voice is as soothing as a soft, warm blanket. The first movement of Handel's motet Silete Venti serves up a neat trick: the vigorous fugato of the instrumental introduction is brought to an instant, mid-phrase halt by the words of the title ("Silence, ye winds"), thus informing us retroactively that we have been listening to the gusts of a windstorm. Wilson's voice contains so much quiet charisma that we fully accept it when the orchestra obediently follows suit, turning delicately accompanimental and allowing her to expound on the joy her love of the Lord brings her.
But she's just getting started: Wilson is fully equipped to surmount the manifold musical and technical challenges Handel has in store for her in these three demanding works. The five-movement Silete Venti is followed by the eight-movement cantata Laudate Pueri Dominum, which traverses a broad spectrum of the Italian vocal styles and forms Handel was cheerfully (and profitably) learning to embrace during his first sojourn in Rome. Wilson is just as adept with the quick, wide leaps of "Excelsus super omnes gentes Dominus" as she is with the long, tender phrases of the haunting aria "Sit nomen Domine," which features abundant duet work with the superb oboe soloist John Abberger. In several movements, Wilson is joined by the American Bach Choir, which sounds unusually well-integrated and energized but suffers from the remote placement and fuzzy miking that seem to be favored in most recent choral recordings.
The closing, six-movement Gloria, authenticated only in 2001 as genuinely Handelian, is unceasingly melodic and attractive. The cheerful, extended roulades of the insidiously appealing first movement are just a warm-up for the virtuoso vocal fireworks of the dazzlingly fleet closing "Quoniam tu solus sanctus." In all of these, Wilson is not only amazingly consistent and accurate; she somehow retains her beautifully nuanced phrasing. The third movement is a lovely and upbeat "Laudamus te" that makes an unexpected but gratifying mid-movement segue to a triplet-feel "Gratias agimus tibi." Only in the brief fourth movement, "Domine Deus," with just organ accompaniment, does Wilson have some highly uncharacteristic pitch problems. Otherwise, these performances are a splendid, wide-ranging showcase for her. Jeffrey Thomas draws crisp, vital playing from the ace baroque instrumentalists of American Bach Soloists, who provide galvanizing vigor but also caress the gut strings of their period instruments with unusual beauty.
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