Notes and Editorial Reviews
This collection of baroque arias - and a couple of Elizabethan lute songs - is a splendid taster for those who haven’t yet exploited this niche of the music: the counter-tenors. This voice-type has existed at least since the 14th century, mainly in polyphonic compositions and later it was also common in solo songs and arias. During the 19th century it fell out of fashion. It was only in the second half of the 20th century that the voice-type was revived, and it was Alfred Deller (1912 - 1979) who was the ground-breaker. In 1948 he founded his Deller Consort, specializing in historically informed performances. Among his early followers can be mentioned James Bowman (b. 1941), Paul Esswood (b. 1942) and René Jacobs (b. 1946) - the
latter nowadays pursuing a highly successful career as conductor. During the last two-three decades there has been an increased interest in the counter-tenor voice, both from performers and audiences. Eight singers of undisputed high quality can be heard here, and they are only the tip of the iceberg.
Repertoire-wise very little is standard fare - only the aria from Orfeo ed Euridice (tr. 4) is really well-known - but the composers’ names should be a guarantee that this is music on a high level. Antonio Vivaldi is primarily known for his instrumental music but he composed enormous amounts of sacred choral music and more than forty operas that are musically on a par with Handel’s. Nisi Dominus is both personal in style and melodically pleasing, and as sung here by the superb Philippe Jaroussky it could very well become a favourite aria: what beauty, what breath-control, what musical phrasing. The other track with Jaroussky, the aria from Orlando furioso (tr. 8), is equally fine. Here the singer shares the stage with the flautist Jean-Marc Goujon. This is superb music making on all fronts. The pioneer James Bowman, supposedly recorded in the 1970s or 1980s, is more alto-ish in timbre in the Dixit Dominus (tr. 5). A lively aria from Griselda (tr. 9) is exquisitely sung by Iestyn Davies, a great admirer of Bowman. His technique is superb. The Korean David DQ Lee sings the long phrases in an aria from Orlando (tr. 12) with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of air and beautiful tone. Dominique Visse, born 1955, has a leaner, thinner voice but his coloratura and trill are masterly in the dramatic aria from Montezuma (tr. 13). Another Frenchman, Gerard Lesne, belongs to the same generation. He offers the only French number, from Charpentier’s oratorio (tr. 10) and displays an uncommonly deep and dark voice - but impeccable technique in the fast finale. He also executes two songs by John Dowland with good feeling for the text (trs. 6 and 14) and in Purcell’s O solitude (tr. 3) with plaintive tone.
James Bowman sings Che faro fromOrfeo ed Euridice (tr. 4) with the same rounded tone as Kathleen Ferrier on an old Decca recording from the 1940s - one of earliest records. Where Ferrier feels drowsy at a very expansive tempo, Bowman’s Orfeo, though sad, is more positive and alive. In the aria from Handel’s Giulio Cesare (tr. 11) he is dramatic and duets boldly with an impertinent French horn.
The German Andreas Scholl has become one of the foremost Bach interpreters and his two cantata arias (trs. 2 and 7) are lessons in powerful and robust singing with a focus on the texts.
The bonus track, from the motion picture soundtrack for the film Farinelli, il castrato, was no doubt what triggered the interest in high male voices back in 1994. This is, it has to be admitted, a falsification, insofar as they have mixed Derek Lee Ragin’s counter-tenor with Ewa Mallas-Godlewska’s soprano to create a sound as close as possible to that of the castrato singer. The result is an exhibition in virtuoso singing, almost incredible. In recent years Cecilia Bartoli has recorded the same aria, from Broschi’s Artaserse in the album Sacrificium. If you haven’t heard that disc I urge you to invest in it without delay. However, for a wider spectrum of the counter-tenor voice the present disc is an excellent sample.
– Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International Read less
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