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Hasse: Siroe, Re di Persia / Cencic, Lezhneva, Petrou

Release Date: 12/09/2014 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 002207402   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Johann Adolf HasseGeorge Frideric Handel
Performer:  Julia LezhnevaFranco FagioliMary-Ellen NesiMax Emanuel Cencic,   ... 
Conductor:  George Petrou
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Armonia Atenea
Number of Discs: 2 
Length: 2 Hours 46 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The world-premiere recording of Siroe re di Persia by Johann Adolf Hasse, whose music encapsulates the refined aristocratic cultural tastes of the European Ancien Regime.

Offering true musical fireworks and delights, Siroe is led by Max Cencic in the title role with the vital orchestra of Armonia Atenea and their high-powered conductor, George Petrou: the same vibrant partnership which saw their first album on Decca, Handel’s Alessandro, won a clutch of top awards.

Cencic is supported by a truly stunning cast, with Decca’s award-winning Julia Lezhneva, countertenor Franco Fagioli (whose own debut album on DG will come soon), Juan Sancho,
Read more Mary-Ellen Nesi, and Lauren Snouffer.

“...For Mr. Cencic, none of the conventional limitations of a countertenor voice apply. . . the music of Hasse inspires him to a display of tremendous artistry.” [Voix des Arts]

Remarkably famous during his lifetime, the composer Hasse was acclaimed by his contemporaries as one of the most important artists of the 18th Century: the greatest singers of the time clamoured to perform in his operas.

Renowned for his gifts as a melodist, in Siroe Hasse offers a feast of rare vocal delights in the telling of a vivid story of passion, jealousy and intrigue.

Max Cencic & Parnassus Arts’ new stage production of Siroe premiered in June 2014 at Athens’ Megaron to enthusiastic acclaim from audience and critics alike, and will tour to Versailles and Vienna.

“Rising star countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic's easy command of the craziest diminutions -- the length, rapidity and range of which challenge the physically possible -- shows why Hasse's music enthralled audiences. Authority abounds: Cencic leaps elegantly across his register, and the band intervenes in delightfully unexpected ways to alter tempos and vary melodies. The richness of Cencic's timbre, especially in his bottom range, makes Hasse's lovely lines even more delectable." Max Emanuel Cencic, CD review Rokoko , Berta Joncus, BBC Music Magazine (London), 01 Jul 2014

Full Review:

Hasse was a major 18th century composer, up there with Handel. He was married to the even more famous soprano, Faustina Bordoni; they were what is now called a “power couple”. Based in Dresden and bathed in the Italian style of composition, Hasse turned that city into a major venue for opera; the Italians called him “The dear Saxon”. Siroe is a typical opera of the period: with a libretto by Pietro Metastasio (whose words for various operas were set by more than 300 composers; Siroe alone was set by five composers before Hasse got to it), it alternates recitatives (many, many of them), in which things happen and characters confront one-another, with showcase arias that reflect a frozen moment, a specific emotion.

This opera is concerned with who is worthy of the throne; we get many opinions and insights, but not much happens. The joy is in the arias (there are no duets or ensembles–it’s infuriating in Baroque and Rococo opera, but that’s life), which make one love singing, especially of the caliber found here. And just for the record, late in the third act a recitative is borrowed from Handel’s Siroe and is followed by an aria from a different Hasse opera; and the opera’s closing, almost unbelievable showpiece aria is from Graun’s Brittanico. No explanation is given as to why these particular interpolations were made, but who cares? I am, however, stumped by the fact that the aria is supposed to be sung by Emira but is sung by Laodice. (See below.)

The cast consists of singers ideally suited to the difficulties and beauties of the music. Max Emanuel Cencic and Franco Fagioli, superstar countertenors, star as Siroe and Medarse, brothers in rivalry for the Persian throne, the first good and virtuous, the second nasty and manipulative. You get the point from each of their opening arias in Act 1: Siroe sings of his loyalty and about those who are against him in a lovely cantilena; Medarse, thinking that his machinations are working, sings a simile aria about his soul finding peace in the midst of a storm, dipping into chest voice, flying about with wild coloratura, and singing with an audible sneer. And so it goes, with Fagioli capable of softening his tone when he’s trying to fool his father into thinking he’s the good one.

Cosroe, the father of the two brothers and present King, is tenor Juan Sancho, who doesn’t have all that much to sing, but begins the opera with an aria that requires two octave leaps; he is in love with Laodice, who loves Siroe. Laodice is sung by young Julia Lezhneva, who, as in her other recordings, sings so gloriously that it takes an aria or two to realize that she might be singing in either Chinese, Italian, or just warbling. I’ve stopped complaining.

Mezzo Mary-Ellen Nesi as Emira, also in love with Siroe but disguised as a man named Idaspe for a reason I’ve either forgotten or never knew, sings with a fine dusky tone and invariable accuracy, although her coloratura in her Act 2 aria (no. 14) sounds like she’s giggling. She pulls out all the stops, however, for “Che furia, che mostro”, which is about monstrous fury. Arasse, an army general, is well sung by soprano Lauren Snouffer, who sounds nothing like a general.

The first CD runs almost 84 minutes, the second almost 83; clearly, Decca wanted to avoid the inevitable marketing suicide of a 3-CD set of an opera that’s no more than a series of great arias designed for a special market. One booklet contains track listings and two informative essays, and a second contains the libretto in four languages. George Petrou leads his superb period band, Armonia Atenea, with such style and knowledge that your head almost spins from the whole affair. Even the horns play fearlessly.

This all leaves us with a stumper: this is clearly a case of art for art’s sake. Is it enough or do we need heart-rending drama? I’m happy to have it around; I’ve played it through a couple of times and a couple more skipping the recits (they’re on separate tracks). Why don’t you do the same?

-- Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com

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Works on This Recording

Siroe re di Persia by Johann Adolf Hasse
Performer:  Julia Lezhneva (Soprano), Franco Fagioli (Countertenor), Mary-Ellen Nesi (Mezzo Soprano),
Max Emanuel Cencic (Countertenor), Lauren Snouffer (Soprano)
Conductor:  George Petrou
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Armonia Atenea
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1733 
Notes: Version: 1763, Dresden 
Siroe, Re di Persia, HWV 24: Act 3. Son stanco, ingiusti Numi di soffrir by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Max Emanuel Cencic (Countertenor)
Conductor:  George Petrou
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Armonia Atenea
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1728 
Length: 1 Minutes 25 Secs. 
Tito Vespasiano: Vo disperato a morte by Johann Adolf Hasse
Performer:  Max Emanuel Cencic (Countertenor)
Conductor:  George Petrou
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Armonia Atenea
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1735; Italy 

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