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 Recording of the Week  The Three Baroque Tenors

The modern notion of a good tenor voice generally seems to be based on the ability to sing high notes at considerable volume, and if you want to sing Verdi or Wagner these attributes are certainly a prerequisite. However that hasn’t always been the case and if you go back to the Baroque era and look at the sort of demands which composers like Handel and Vivaldi were making on their tenors the requirements are quite different. Ian Bostridge’s latest disc looks at repertoire written for three of the greatest Baroque tenors - Francesco Borosini, John Beard and Annibale Po Fabri - all stars of their day, but with remarkably different voices and characteristics. However, collectively they changed history as, by persuading composers to showcase them, the tenor voice finally came to rival the dominance of the castrato and before long it would start to replace it.

Ian Bostridge
Ian Bostridge

In terms of the music he inspired and the Europe-wide reputation he enjoyed, Francesco Borosini was arguably the greatest of the three singers. He was renowned for a huge vocal range which covered both baritone and tenor roles and he could leap effortlessly down to the depths of his voice and up again.

John Beard meanwhile is probably the most well known of the three as Handel wrote roles for him in no less than ten operas as well as title roles in the oratorios Samson, Judas Maccabeus, and Jephtha. Beard was a big star in 18th century London and must have had considerable talents as, while the Handel oratorio roles tend to focus on strength and expressiveness, the opera arias featured on this disc demand considerable agility and vigour.

Annibale Po Fabri was a favourite singer of Vivaldi and there are three of his arias on this disc. But like Borosini and Beard, Fabri also worked extensively in London and in particular with Handel, singing several of the composer's operatic roles, and specialising in those which required particular agility, flourish and grace. Handel wrote the role of Alexander the Great in his opera Poro for Fabri and contrasting this role to those which Handel wrote for Borosini and Beard you really get an idea of the extent to which Handel wrote with specific singers in mind.

Bostridge’s new recording is a hugely ambitious undertaking: choosing music written specifically for three different singers and trying to select arias which best characterised their voices, while at the same time working within his own vocal and stylistic idiosyncrasies, and producing a programme of music which was cohesive and interesting to listen to. He describes it now as a humbling challenge but I know it is one which has been very close to his heart for some time as I remember him telling me about it over three years ago when we met one evening at the Handel House Museum in London. I really can’t think of another singer around today who could pull it off so convincingly. His voice is perfectly attuned to this music - giving subtle colouring and shading to emphasise both textural and melodic nuances. His smooth tone, effortless sense of line and appropriate ornamentation produce superb performances while he is skilfully supported by the English Concert under Bernard Labadie.

There is a short video on the website giving you a few brief excerpts, and it goes without saying that this disc comes very highly recommended.

The Three Baroque Tenors

Music by Handel, Vivaldi, Arne, Boyce, Caldara, Conti, Gasparini, Galliard and Alessandro Scarlatti.

Ian Bostridge (tenor), The English Consort, Bernard Labadie

Available Formats: MP3, CD Quality FLAC