It is extremely difficult nowadays to reproduce the sound castrato singers where capable of doing at their time and, too often, one finds voices that are too nasal or merely good falsettos. But in many of the performances in this CD one can let the imagination wander and almost imagine you are in the 18th century. In particular, the performance of James Bowmann is outstanding. Also very special the performace of Charpentier 'Salve Regina' by Gerard Lesne and the others; this of course enhanced by the exquisite sensibility of the director Jordi Saval. Also, the duo of Derek Lee Ragin and Ewa Mallas-Godlewska in 'Son qual nave ch'agitata' is so exquisite it brings tears to your eyes. (Carmen E. Alvarez)
There are three absolutely amazing performances on this set, and not because the voices are more or less beautiful than usual: those of Victoria de los Angeles, Marilyn Horne, and Sesto Bruscantini. The first-named sings here with dramatic expression, cleanly executed coloratura runs, and trills, none of which she was known for through most of her career. By dramatic expression I do not mean the generalized drama of her Butterfly, but word-painting and attention to text, of getting inside the character. Her coloratura runs here are far more cleanly executed than on her famous recording of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. As for trills, yes, she attempted a couple of imperfect ones on her recordings, but none in her Jewel Song from Faust, neither the mono recording from 1952 nor the stereo remake of 1957, neither in Nedda’s 1953 “Ballatella” nor in Antonia’s music in the 1965 Contes d’Hoffman. But here, suddenly, Victoria is loaded with trills—she even sings an ascending scale of them in her first-act aria—and they are cleanly defined trills, not that half-hearted little shake that she made pass for a trill in her earlier days.
It is now generally accepted that Vivaldi wrote ten cello sonatas – one of them now lost. Six (RV 47, 41, 43, 45, 40 and 46) of the surviving nine were published posthumously as a set, in Paris, by Charles-Nicolas Le Clerc around 1740. The other three survive in manuscript collections: RV 42 (along with RV 46) is preserved in the library at Wiesentheid Castle at Unterfranken in Germany; RV 39 and 44 (along with RV 47) are to be found in a manuscript in the Naples Conservatoire.
Geminiani’s opus 5 consists of six cello sonatas, and was first published in Paris in 1746. The twenty years either side of 1740 saw the cello rise to a very fashionable position in French musical society, largely at the expense of the bass-viol – a change of fashion which stirred such strong emotions that in 1740 Hubert Le Blanc published his fierce Defense de la basse de viole contre les entreprises du violon et les pretensions du violencel. Music such as that by Vivaldi and Geminiani which is played here by Roel Dieltiens and his colleagues must have made a powerful counter-case for the cello.
Ercole su’l Termodonte was Vivaldi’s 16th opera, appearing in 1723 in Rome. There was a Papal ban on women appearing on stage at the time and so the opera was sung by seven castrati and a male tenor, the latter singing the title role, Hercules. Portraying either the Amazons of myth or Greek warriors, the castrati must have been quite a scene and made quite a sound. Conducted by a Catholic priest–Vivaldi himself–with red hair, the entire proposition boggles the mind.