Presto News - 9th September 2013
Arias for countertenor/male soprano from Fagioli, Hansen, and Jaroussky
I think I was about ninety seconds into Franco Fagioli’s ‘Arias for Caffarelli’ when I decided that it was one of my records of the year: tearing into a virtuosic aria from Hasse’s Siroe, the Argentinian high countertenor’s laser-beam top notes and prodigious agility had us all gawping at one another in disbelief when we first played it in the Presto office!
Born Gaetano Majorano in 1710, Caffarelli (like most star castrati he was known by a stage-name) was as renowned for his divaish behaviour as for his almost superhuman vocal skills – promiscuous and hugely extravagant, he wasn’t above upstaging his colleagues by sauntering off-stage whilst they were singing or even paying lackeys to blow snuff into the air during his rivals’ big arias! But when he wasn’t getting arrested or doing the eighteenth-century equivalent of trashing hotel-suites, he inspired some of the most breathtaking music of the Italian baroque, as this superb collection bears out.
Most of the arias receive their first outing on disc here. There are relatively few recordings of Caffarelli’s repertoire from female sopranos, and hardly any modern (ie ‘intact’!) male singers have dared to tackle this fiendishly high-lying music (even by castrato standards, Caffarelli seems to have had a remarkable upper extension). Fagioli takes it all in his stride with infectious brio: gleaming high As and Bs abound (not just those touched briefly in runs, but also sustained with real beauty of tone!), and the blazing martial aria by Gennaro Manna which closes the disc is capped with a stupendous top D! Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Fagioli’s singing, though – and something which I’ve never heard from any other exponent of this type of music – is his use of a robust chest-voice that descends well into baritone register: he displays a full three-octave range on the disc, dipping down nearly an octave below middle C. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in countertenor territory anymore.
Dazzled as I was by the vocal pyrotechnics, I couldn’t fail to notice the scintillating playing of Il Pomo d’Oro: sample the delightfully raucous natural horns in that opening track, or any one of the various beautifully shaped obbligatos.
You wait three hundred years for a male soprano and three come along at once: a few weeks ago Deutsche Harmonia Mundi brought us ‘Rivals’ from David Hansen, a glamorous young Australian sopranist (or, as his eponymous website describes it, ‘guy who sings high’). It’s an intelligently planned recital of arias from operas which pitted two rival castrati against one another (rather as this review has ended up doing, though personally I wouldn’t be without either disc!).
Hansen matches Fagioli for speed and clarity in Vinci's ‘In braccio a mille furie’ (which appears on both discs) and also showcases a stonking top D in a fabulous extended version of the well-known ‘Son qual nave’, but he avoids those very low reaches in which Fagioli revels. The basic sound is worlds away from Fagioli’s: pure, sweet and not dissimilar to Philippe Jaroussky, though he’s still very much his own man!
In fact, Jaroussky himself has also contributed to making September The Month of the Castrato with a programme of arias by Nicola Porpora, the great Neapolitan singing tutor who endowed Farinelli, Caffarelli and countless others with the technique which took Europe by storm. Jaroussky may not yet scale the extravagant heights of the other two singers, but there are signs that he too is exploring more extreme vocal techniques: an excursion into ‘man-voice’ here, a stratospheric flourish there. There’s a lovely cameo from his frequent sparring-partner Cecilia Bartoli, too.
I’m still not quite sure how they do it, but I can’t wait to see where this new generation of male soprani will go next – for the minute, though, I’m happy to revel in the resurrection of a voice-type and repertoire that I never thought would be set down on disc!
Arias for Caffarelli
Franco Fagioli (countertenor), Il Pomo d’Oro, Riccardo Minasi
Rivals: Arias for Farinelli & Co.
David Hansen (countertenor), Academia Montis Regalis, Alessandro de Marchi
Porpora: Farinelli Arias
Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor), Venice Baroque Orchestra, Andrea Marcon
Katherine Cooper - firstname.lastname@example.org
9th September 2013
Wagner: Das Rheingold
René Pape (Wotan), Nikolai Putilin (Alberich), Stephan Rügamer (Loge), Ekaterina Gubanova (Fricka), Evgeny Nikitin (Fafner), Mikhail Petrenko (Fafner), Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev
The highly-anticipated second instalment of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen conducted by Valery Gergiev. Recorded in the Mariinsky Concert Hall, Das Rheingold is led by René Pape in the role of Wotan, ably supported by an international Wagnerian cast. Siegfried and Götterdämmerung will complete the cycle in 2014.
Fauré: Piano Music
Angela Hewitt (piano)
Angela Hewitt turns to a composer who has been relatively overlooked by performers; in her hands this music is an utter joy. This album includes the major work Thème et variations, Op 73 and a selection of Valses-caprices and Nocturnes. It ends with a more radiant piece from Fauré’s youth, the Ballade pour piano seul, dedicated to Saint-Saëns.
Britten: War Requiem, Op. 66
Susan Gritton (soprano), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Christopher Maltman (baritone), Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir, Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh
Paul McCreesh has again assembled the Gabrieli Consort & Players and Wroclaw Phiharmonic Choir to record a 20th-century masterpiece. Composed to mark the consecration of a new cathedral in Coventry, War Requiem combines the Latin text of the Requiem Mass with nine poems by Wilfred Owen, providing a moving commentary on the liturgical text.
Delius: Sea Drift & Cynara
Roderick Williams (baritone), Hallé Choir, Hallé Youth Choir, Hallé, Sir Mark Elder
Hallé and Sir Mark Elder present a programme of evocative works by Holst and Delius. Holst’s The Hymn of Jesus explores the connection between dancing and religious ritual in a highly concentrated and intense work. Delius's choral poem Sea Drift depicts an expression of grief, loss and bereavement, and includes some of the most ravishing music that Delius ever penned. Cynara also follows the theme of loss in a setting of texts by the poet Ernest Dowson.
Tallis: Salve intemerata & other sacred music
The Cardinall's Musick, Andrew Carwood
The Cardinall’s Musick and Andrew Carwood continue their exploration of the sacred music of Thomas Tallis. Tallis’s career spanned the reigns of four monarchs, whose various religious attitudes meant that each required different music to adorn the liturgy. Tallis excelled in every style, and this album contains examples of each of them, from the monumental Salve intemerata virgo to the modest setting of I call and cry to thee.
Schumann: Piano Works
Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
Dame Mitsuko Uchida, acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost Schumann interpreters, follows her last album of the composer’s music with another sublime Schumann programme. This disc brings together the romantic fire and intensity of the Piano Sonata No. 2 in G minor with two remarkable works from Schumann’s final years, Waldszenen and the Gesänge der Frühe.
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Christiane Karg sings Strauss, Fauré, Debussy, Poulenc
Christiane Karg (soprano) & Malcolm Martineau (piano)
The Wigmore Hall debut of young Bavarian soprano Christiane Karg in July 2012 proved a glistening highlight of the summer’s song recital series. Two themes are featured: botanical in the first half, nocturnal in the second. The programme includes rarely heard floral songs from Strauss’s teenage years, dreamy settings by Fauré, Debussy and Poulenc, mysterious and nocturnal Lieder by Wolf, and Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder.
Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin (DVD)
Krassimira Stoyanova (Tatyana), Simon Keenlyside (Eugene Onegin), Elena Maximova (Olga), Pavol Breslik (Lensky), Peter Rose (Prince Gremin), Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Robin Ticciati (conductor)
Kasper Holten’s inaugural production as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera returns to Pushkin’s verse novella to reveal the shadows of memory that haunt Tchaikovsky’s lyric tragedy. Using doubles to suggest the paths taken, or not taken, by its two impulsive protagonists, Holten gives voice to the loss and regret at the heart of the opera. Simon Keenlyside and Krassimira Stoyanova bring both experience and dynamic energy to the pair of protagonists.
Blu-ray version also available here.
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