CD Review: Handel/ Julia Lezhneva/ Il GIardino Armonico

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This review was first published in December 2015. Julia Lezhneva will perform in Sydney with the Australian Chamber Orchestra at the City Recital Hall. Her concert programme includes Handel’s ‘Salve Regina’ which is on this album.


Russian soprano Julia Lezhneva thrilled Australian audiences when she performed at Hobart Baroque and gave a recital in Melbourne in 2014. The prodigiously talented soprano has recently released her third solo album Handel,  on the Decca label (478 6766), reprising her collaboration with the 14-strong specialist period ensemble Il Giardino Armonico directed by Giovanni Antonini with solo violinist Dmitry Sinkovsky.

Lezhneva is an expert interpreter of Baroque music.  Aged just 26, her best is yet to come, but already, this album of the early Italian arias of Handel is something very special.

The arias are drawn from Handel’s first visit to Italy in 1706 at the age of 21, where he stayed for three years writing both sacred and secular music. Lezhneva is only a little older than Handel was at the time of writing these arias and it seems that both 20-somethings have cast reservation to the wind as a sense of adventure and youthful exuberance pervade Handel’s writing and Lezhneva’s performance.

There are arias from Handel’s operas – Rodrigo and  Agrippina, the dramatic cantatas If Trionfo del tempo del Disinganno and Apollo e Dafne; the sacred oratorio La Resurrezione, the psalm setting Dixit Dominus and the antiphon Salve Regina written for the church at the Marquess Ruspoli’s country estate in 1707. As well, the orchestra has its own cameo playing a Sinfonia from Agrippina.

Barely into adulthood, Handel’s  writing is complex and vividly narrates his stories. Lezhneva’s voice is at all times exquisite and skilfully gives voice to the tales, contrasting a lush and perfectly rounded legato with athletic and even coloratura passages.  Her changes of register are seamless, her phrasing, subtle. Ornamentation is in style. Per dar pregio all’amor mio from Rodrigo is a standout, as is the seductive, pastoral Felicissima quest’alma from Apollo e Dafne. The ‘rage’ aria Un pensiero nemico di pace from Il Trionfo packs considerable punch.

The orchestra is sublime, immersing us in Baroque sounds and style. The solos from Sinkovsky and fellow violinist Marco Bianchi, oboist Thomas Meraner and Antonini himself playing the transverse flute are an added joy.

The CD booklet has the texts of all the songs, images and comprehensive notes about the music that Handel wrote during this stay in Italy. The recording was made at the Museo del Violino Antonio Stradivari in Cremona in January 2015.

There is a gratifying Australian connection – Lezhneva completed her vocal training with the Australian soprano Yvonne Kenny who is a Professor of Voice at London’s Guildhall School.

This CD is an absolute must have if Baroque music is your passion. Sydney audiences will be able to hear the fabulous Julia Lezhneva when she tours with the Australian Chamber Orchestra in October 2016. Her programme will include Handel’s Salve Regina which is on this disc


Shamistha de Soysa for SoundslikeSydney©

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