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Second Sight - Music with Wilfrid Mellers

10. Time and Truth.
A new recording of a Handel oratorio


<< Continued from yesterday

The original performance of the oratorio was probably directed from the orchestra by Arcangelo Corelli, the most famous, and 'classical', of all Italian violinist-composers. The maestro objected to Handel's original overture because it was in the French (Lullian) style which Corelli didn't understand or favour. Without ado, the young Saxon wrote out an alternative overture according to Corellian prescription: in which social amenability is evident in the suave symmetries and tonal sequences -- though the string techniques are sometimes, within their defined conventions, adventurous, embracing altitudinous high A's far above and beyond standard practice. Even within the overture public pride and presumption are momentarily countered by a slow movement in which oboes hint at the personal passions of operatic arioso; and although the public realm is restored in a second and faster allegro, this has acquired a slight sense of panic as well as of pride. It thus prepares us for the entries of Beauty and Pleasure whose mirror-arias, in gig style with aggressive cross-rhythms, hymn an eternity of sensual pleasures that Time cannot stale -- or so the wantons think or hope. But Time and Disillusion immediately establish their identities as opposing forces, calling on ground bass techniques to bolster continuity. Even so, the intervention of those 18th century virtues of Reason, Truth, and Nature fails to discipline the young women's bravado and bravura, and Beauty's aria 'Una schiero di piacere', with its skittish oboe obbligato, asserts blind courage with daft, rather than blithe, insouciance. Time's riposte, describing the charnel-horrors of the grave in 'horrendous' dissonances and grisly tremolandi, only provokes the girls to duet in whirligig triplet quavers painfully pierced by dotted crotchets, so that their euphoria entails more than a touch of anxiety. These girls know that the word 'experience' derives from the Latin  ex  periculo, meaning 'from or out of peril', as is patent in Beauty's dazzling and dizzying aria Un pensiero nemico di pace, wherein the coloratura, having momently threatened disintegration, miraculously holds on in virtuosic lucidity.

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Copyright © 29 July 2001 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK







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