Mortensen's magnificent direction brings out the full measure of excitement, pathos and emotion in Handel's score…[the production] conveys an enormous amount of what makes Partenope very special.–Gramophone
Julia Lezhneva, Franco Fagioli and Diego Fasolis: three stars of the Baroque unite to record Vivaldi’s most popular choral work.
Antonio Vivaldi's probably early Nisi Dominus, RV 608, and Stabat Mater, RV 621, both for solo voice and ensemble, have received several top-notch recordings, so the listener can pick on the basis of voice type and stylistic preference. Countertenor David Daniels has essayed the pair with Fabio Biondi and his Europa Galante ensemble, and you can hear the preternaturally rich contralto Sara Mingardo in a reading with the fiery Italian Baroque specialist Rinaldo Alessandrini. Here you get a countertenor, Philippe Jaroussky, in the Nisi Dominus and a female contralto, Canadian Marie-Nicole Lemieux, in the Stabat Mater. The pairing robs the whole of unity at one level, but makes musical sense; the Nisi Dominus is a more athletic work that benefits from the power of the male voice, while the Stabat Mater, especially in Vivaldi's truncated and highly dramatic setting, may require the audience to identify with a female singer.
Countertenor Andreas Scholl's new CD is devoted to little-known, late-17th- and early-18th-century cantatas whose subject matter is Arcadia, a real region in Greece, but more frequently evoked as an idyllic place filled with innocent, simple shepherds and shepherdesses. Scholl employs a more operatic tone and attitude than we're accustomed to from countertenors. Not only does he use vibrato and "lean" on the voice, but he dips down, as in the final moments of a cantata by Marcello, into a deep, dark baritone range. The effect is dramatic and apt. Elsewhere his tone is just gorgeous and always expressive, he pays attention to the text of these works and captures the theatrical moment in each. The last movement of a work by Francesco Gasparini is excitingly acrobatic. The Accademia Byzantina is a remarkable "backup" group and they get to play some purely orchestral works as well. This disc is a knockout; enjoy it.–Robert Levine
It's been conventional wisdom for several generations that Solomon, great oratorio though it may be, contains a lot of deadwood; conductors have regularly cut some items and changed the order of others. (Even John Eliot Gardiner's excellent recording cuts about 30 minutes of music.) Leave it to Paul McCreesh to give us the complete score–and demonstrate that Handel's original structure makes plenty of sense and that every number is worthwhile.
Alessandro Scarlatti is justly famed for his contributions to Read more opera seria and cantata, and indeed it may even be said that he was one of the main progenitors of the Neapolitan style of the early 18th century. In Naples and earlier in Rome he was obligated to write a considerable amount of sacred music, much of it for smaller settings that would be useful in the local churches. Since his music is now becoming more common on disc, it is good to have this recording of a set of four pieces—a gradual, a Marian antiphon, a motet, and a Psalm—all of which reflect rather different approaches to each portion of the liturgy and yet contain a certain commonality in form and structure. Interspersed within these, and no doubt both to provide a transition between then and to fill out the disc, are three organ works, two of which are of substantial length. Given that Scarlatti’s pieces for this instrument are not common, their appearance here is a real treat.
From the earliest planning stages for this recording, Andreas Scholl had only one orchestra in mind: the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. It's no surprise that Decca was skittish about the idea–there are, after all, many good baroque-instrument bands much closer to London–yet the star countertenor insisted that his rapport with this group was special and that it would be well worth the trouble to make the record in Sydney. Well, from the very first notes, it's clear that Scholl was right: conductor Paul Dyer and the ABO launch into the opening of Nisi Dominus with an energetic gusto that you'd sooner expect from Rinaldo Alessandrini's Concerto Italiano than from an Anglo-Saxon band. Scholl responds in kind: his vocalism is as smooth, clear, and assured as ever, but he goes beyond that–his innumerable subtle inflections of tone and timing are more reminiscent of a good orator than an opera singer. The up-tempo arias are exciting, with high-precision coloratura; Clarae stellae, a cheerful solo motet that lacks flashy vocal fireworks, gets a wonderfully insouciant little bounce. Yet the real magic is in the soft, slow arias, where Scholl and his colleagues create an almost palpable sense of wonder (slightly tinged with tension) and hold a listener in thrall as surely as an expert storyteller. Let's hope these artists make more recordings together–and that (with luck) they'll all be as marvelous as this one. –Matthew Westphal