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Sharing releases, present and past, to brighten your day. WXXI Classical has its eyes and ears on the latest releases from classical artists working today. When we come across a story or a release we think you might enjoy, we’ll be sharing it with you on CD Spotlight. You’ll learn more about the artists online at WXXI Classical, and you’ll hear selections from these artists on FM 91.5. CD Spotlight shares new releases by artists that you’ll want to know and some by great artists and ensembles that deserve to be in the spotlight again.

CD Spotlight: As Steals the Morn, Handel Arias and Scenes for Tenor

Total eclipse!” sings Samson in Act I of Handel’s oratorio of the same name. The arrival of a total solar eclipse in Rochester provides a great excuse to feature this disc, which has been in WXXI’s library for a while, but missed the CD spotlight when it came out. True, Samson’s eclipse isn’t quite the same as the physical phenomenon we will experience this month (in the oratorio, he is lamenting the loss of his sight at the hands of his captors), but this is too good an opportunity to miss.

In “The Hedgehog and the Foxl” Isaiah Berlin floats the idea (adapting a fragment of Archilochus) that writers or philosophers could be loosely classified into two groups, the hedgehogs (who “know one big thing”) and the foxes (who “know many things”). Berlin proposes Plato and Proust as a philosopher and a writer who were hedgehogs, while Aristotle and Goethe could serve as examples of foxes. While Berlin doesn’t mention composers, his distinction can, to a point, illuminate a key contrast between the two giants of the Baroque period in classical music – Bach has to be a hedgehog, while Handel is undoubtedly a fox.

Consider, for example, the variety of situations involved in the scenes and arias on this disc, from a song of seduction from Jupiter to his mortal mistress, to outbursts of rage, self-loathing, and vengeance on the part of an imprisoned Turkish sultan. Not only do we get Samson’s regret for his blindness, we also hear his more optimistic aria describing the dawn breaking and dispelling night spirits. A century before Wagner composed his mighty outpouring of love and loss as Wotan bids farewell to his daughter at the end of Die Walküre, Handel captured Jephtha’s similar anguish and tenderness as he is compelled to sacrifice his own daughter, thanks to an ill-considered vow. In just under six minutes these emotions are crystallized in an aria that feels very like a musical evocation of someone holding his breath, caught between despair and the wish things could turn out differently.

Mark Padmore is more than equal to every one of the dramatic and musical challenges of Handel’s music. He spent the early years of his career singing in early music ensembles, including the Tallis Scholars and the Sixteen, and he took the part of the Evangelist in the Peter Sellars stagings of the Bach passions, so he is completely at home with Baroque style, whether the composer be hedgehog or fox. He can float ethereal lines that seem almost otherworldly, but he is not afraid to snarl in rage or spit in fury when the music demands this as well. Andrew Manze and the English Concert match Padmore note for note in long-breathed phrasing and dramatic fire.

The disc closes with a gem of a duet, with Padmore joined by Lucy Crowe in “As steals the morn” from L’Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato. As a celebration of the return of light after darkness, it seems a fitting way to close a program that plumbs the both blackest depths and the wildest delights. And it seems a fitting way, too, to wrap up our celebration of the eclipse here in Rochester.

Born in South Africa, James Aldrich-Moodie spent some of his childhood in Geneva, NY, and fondly remembers attending concerts at Eastman and with the RPO. He studied piano and flute, but remains strictly an amateur. A passionate lover of classical music, especially opera and vocal music, James hosted a radio show on WYBC as an undergraduate. Later, he wrote a dissertation about transformations in the worlds of opera and literature, and the connections between the two.