Delirio is the title of a new recording of vocal cantatas by George Frideric Handel. It features soprano Natalie Dessay. The album's title is taken from one of the cantatas, Delirio Amoroso, or delirium of love, the text of which was written by a Vatican cardinal.

Tom Manoff has a review.

TOM MANOFF: When a young George Frideric Handel came to Rome in 1706, opera had been forbidden by the Pope. But composers and poets found another way to fulfill their operatic longings. They wrote short vocal cantatas. Not actual operas, but operatic in style. One of Handel's patrons in Rome was Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili, a wealthy connoisseur of the arts and something of a poet.

The cardinal enjoyed an opulent life, complete with his own palace. And it was there that Delirio Amoroso was first performed.

(Soundbite of "Delirio Amoroso")

MANOFF: When hearing this music for the first time, it's possible to respond only to its flowery sheen. After all, this highly ornamented style reflects the ostentatiousness of Baroque aristocratic culture.

(Soundbite of music)

MANOFF: But one thing that makes a great composer like Handel great is that the inner life of his music can move us beyond that immediate response. So once you clear out the flowery gauze around the sound, something more engaging and more real emerges. For example, the charm of this passage for voice and violin...

(Soundbite of music)

MANOFF: Soprano Natalie Dessay doesn't let the virtuosity of this music overshadow its delightful qualities. She's helped in that effort by an inspired collaboration with Emmanuelle Haïm, who leads the instrumental ensemble.

(Soundbite of music)

MANOFF: I have to admit that when I was younger, I couldn't stand Handel's vocal music in this style. What happened to me? Did I become more aristocratic in my taste? No, not at all. At some point Handel charmed me beyond what I once heard as flowery and flamboyant. This may be music composed for a palace. Well, I don't have one and I don't want one. I'll take my Handel straight up - no frills, just genius.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: The CD is called Delirio. Our critic is Tom Manoff.

(Soundbite of music)

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