GRAMOPHONE AWARDS SHORTLIST 2019
Cavalli ‘Ombra mai fu’ Gli amori d’Apollo e di Dafne – Ohimé, che miro? … Misero Apollo Calisto – Erme, e solinghe cime … Lucidissima face; Intreprete mal buona … L’uomo è una dolce cosa; Ninfa bella Doriclea – Sinfonia Elena – Ecco l’idol mio … Mio diletto, mio sospiro Eliogabalo – Sinfonia; Io resto solo? … Misero, cosi va Ercole amanti – Sinfonia Erismenea – Dove mi conducete … Uscitemi dal cor, lacrime amare Eritrea – Ô luci belle Giasone – Delizie, contenti Orione – Sinfonia Ormindo – Che città che costumi Pompeo Magno – Cieche Tenebre Statira, principessa di Persia – All’armi mio core La Virtù dei Strali d’amore – Alcun più di me felice non è; Che pensi, mio core?; Il diletto interrotto … Desia la Verginella Xerse – La belezza è un don fugace; Ombra mai fu Philippe Jaroussky counterten with Emőke Baráth sop Marie-Nicole Lemieux contr Ensemble Artaserse Erato F 9029 55181-9; F 6 9029 55038-4 (65’ • DDD) Includes texts and translations
Francesco Cavalli’s 33 surviving operas provide a rich playground for any period performer and the countertenor Philippe Jaroussky throws himself into all that’s on offer in his latest recording, with a little help from his own Ensemble Artaserse and some very starry musical friends.
The title feels like a deliberate provocation: ‘Ombra mai fu’, but not as you know it. The idea of Handel as a point of departure for Baroque opera, a point of navigation for listeners less familiar with Cavalli, is an interesting one, and the comparison doesn’t always shake out in the former’s favour. If Handel’s Xerxes has a showmanship, an aesthetic swagger that Cavalli’s lacks in the lilting prettiness of his own ode to a plane tree, we see the Italian’s skill emerge elsewhere – in the delicacy with which he paints grief, loneliness and loss.
Apollo’s ‘Misero Apollo’, the chromatic bruises on Idraspe’s ‘Uscitemi dal cor’, even the unfulfilled longings of Endimione alone in the mountains singing his hopes in ‘Lucidissima face’ – all show the composer’s skill at painting psychology, even within closed forms. No one manipulates a ground bass quite so skilfully; and Artaserse’s feathery strings, and cornetts whose virtuoso pianissimos have a wonderfully tactile, textured quality to them, cocoon the singers with their intimate accompaniments.
Jaroussky too is at his best in these whispery, crooned laments where the voice treads the line between sound and silence. In the heroic showpieces and exaggerated comedy numbers, however (Brimonte’s ‘All’armi’ from Statira; Eumene’s ‘La bellezza è un don fugace’ from Xerse), we see the limitations of a light voice that can easily get shrill and nasal when too much pressure is applied. Is it a price worth paying for that agility and purity? On balance it probably is, especially when it comes bolstered by colleagues including the contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux (whose Linfea overflows with sensuality) and the soprano Emo˝ke Baráth. Alexandra Coghlan (4/19)
Handel ‘Finest Arias for Base Voice, Vol 2’ Handel Athalia, HWV52 – Ah, canst thou but prove me!; When storms the proud. Belshazzar, HWV61 – Oh, memory! … Opprest with neverceasing grief. Esther, HWV50a – How art thou fall’n from thy height!; Turn not, O Queen, thy face away. Joshua, HWV64 – Shall I in Mamre’s fertile plain; The walls are levell’d … See the raging flames arise. Nell’africane selve, HWV136a. Rinaldo – Veni, o cara. Siroe, re di Persia – Gelido in ogni vena; Tu di pietà mi spogli. Tolomeo, re di Egitto – Piangi pur. Concerto grosso, Op 3 No 4 HWV315 Porpora Catone – È ver che all’amo intorno Christopher Purves bar Arcangelo / Jonathan Cohen Hyperion F CDA68152 (77’ • DDD • T/t)
There may not be as many showstoppers here as on Christopher Purves’s first volume of ‘Handel’s Finest Arias for Base Voice’ (1/13). But this superb followup makes you wonder anew at the composer’s inventive variety in writing for these assorted kings, tyrants and patriarchs. As on his earlier album, Purves’s choice spans Handel’s whole career, from the Italian cantata Nell’africane selve, with its freakishly wide range, to the sympathetic fathers Gobrias and Caleb in Belshazzar and Joshua. Along the way we have, inter alia, a suavely insinuating love song from the saracen king Argante in Rinaldo (a rare Handel opera where a bass gets his girl), arias for the morally ambivalent King Cosroe in Siroe and two moving solos for the treacherous, ultimately despairing Haman in Esther. Purves even slips in a tripping galant aria with bassoon obbligato by Handel’s London rival Porpora, sung by the deep bass Montagnana in the pasticcio Catone.
Purves is surely unique among today’s Anglophone singers in fusing an easily produced high baritone, by turns mellifluous and incisive, with a clean, resonant bass register. Like Montagnana, he is specially adept at negotiating what an 18th-century commentator termed ‘distant intervals’. The very look of Nell’africane selve suggests grotesquerie, with shades of the cyclops in Handel’s Neapolitan serenata Aci, Galatea e Polifemo (cantata and serenata were probably written for the same singer). Moving smoothly between registers, Purves manages the improbable plunges and two and a half-octave range with lyrical grace, culminating in the amorous entreaty of the final aria. Here and elsewhere, characterisation is always apt and specific, yet never at the expense of beauty of tone and firmness of line. He brings an agonised intensity to Cosroe’s ‘Gelido in ogni veno’ (belatedly conscience-stricken after ordering his son’s murder) and sings Haman’s entreaty to Esther ‘Turn not, O queen’ with a blanched, traumatised tone, gently cushioned by the Arcangelo strings.
Amid so much introspection and soulsearching, straightforward Handelian vigour is represented by sturdy arias from Athalia and Joshua, and strutting ‘rage’ arias from Tolomeo and Siroe – a speciality of the high bass Giuseppe Maria Boschi. Purves provides athleticism and Boschi-like venom aplenty but never merely blusters. Yet it is the slower numbers that tend to linger in the imagination, not least Purves’s hushed tenderness in Gobrias’s lament
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