Soprano
Acclaim
Glorious Gauvin

By now Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin has appeared on a couple of dozen recordings and she always impresses. Aside from some Mozart, Britten, Barber, and another composer or two, her repertoire has been solidly based in the Baroque. We’ve come a long way from the HIP sounds of Emma Kirkby and Judith Nelson—not that I’m criticizing or denigrating them—and Gauvin’s rich sound has nothing of the boy treble in it; it is a full lyric soprano. It isn’t merely that she sings with vibrato—she simply has vibrato that she will occasionally eschew for effect; it is her echt womanliness that comes across so vividly.

Except for Meleagro in Handel’s Atalanta, a male role written for soprano castrato, all of the arias on this CD are women’s roles. And “Care selve” from that opera has been sung by everyone, from Leontyne Price to Pavarotti, with Kiri Te Kanawa in between. This CD pays homage to Anna Maria Strada del Po, who sang works by Vivaldi and Vinci before moving to London and performing in no less than 24 of Handel’s operas beginning in 1729 and until 1737. (The composer was relieved not to have the “dueling divas” Cuzzoni and Bordoni to referee anymore.)

Strada was one of three singers for whom Handel wrote a high C. Her dramatic range must have been great as well: he created Alcina for her. On this CD, Gauvin sings three of Alcina’s arias: the wandering, picturesque “Ombre pallide”; the sad, introspective “Si son quella”; and the emotionally complicated, self-pitying, angry “Ah! mio cor”. For these alone, with all their mood swings and varying vocal styles and dynamic ranges, this CD is worth buying.

“Scherza il mar” from Lotario dazzles to start the program, and Elmira’s “Dite pace” (from Sosarme), with a helpless character questioning the heavens, is marvelous as well. In fact, each interpretation here takes on the character of the person and situation, a feat even more remarkable when you consider that Gauvin’s voice is not a complex instrument: it is silky-smooth and luscious. Her innate musicality and perfect pitch create the thrills. “Care selve”, correctly accompanied by continuo alone, is a gorgeous, long-lined poem. And what a trill!

There are three well-spaced and brief orchestral interludes included, with the Adagio from Handel’s Concerto Grosso Op. 3 No. 1 being the most stunning. And throughout, the Arion Orchestre Baroque, playing on period instruments under Alexander Weidman, is never less than ideal. This is a stunner.

Robert Levine, ClassicsToday
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