Gramophone recommends: outstanding recent countertenor recordings

Gramophone Mon 27th March 2017

Are we experiencing a Golden Age of countertenor singing? The recordings highlighted here would certainly seem to suggest so...

Che Puro Ciel: The Rise of Classical Opera

Bejun Mehta counterten Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin / René Jacobs

(Harmonia Mundi)

'JC Bach – writing within the traditional Metastasian opera seria aesthetic – is represented by a terrific ‘storm-at-sea’ aria which singer and orchestra dispatch with a barely controlled wildness. Mehta’s dramatic involvement elevates some rather routine invention in the items by the teenage Mozart, not least in a bravura aria from the tension-free serenata Ascanio in Alba, where the coloratura is expressive, never a vehicle for empty posturing. Superb choral cameos – dulcet in the Elysian chorus from Orfeo, by turns insinuating and venomous as the Furies in Traetta’s Ifigenia – set the seal on the most enjoyable, intelligently planned countertenor recital to have come my way in years.' Richard Wigmore (2/14)

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Arise, my muse

Iestyn Davies counterten Richard Egarr hpd et al

(Wigmore Hall Live)

'This is a disc that reminds us why live recital programmes are such a valuable part of recorded repertoire. Rather than the monochrome focus on the solo artist permitted by the artifice of the studio, we get a fully rounded musical experience that feels more satisfying both for performers and listeners.' Alexandra Coghlan (5/14)

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Arie Napoletane

Max Emanuel Cencic counterten Il Pomo d'Oro / Maxim Emelyanychev

(Decca Classics)

'This is a great voice, dark in tone, beguiling in its liquidity and finely equalised. His coloratura flows with great ease, stunningly so in the aria from Eraclea, though it’s the slower numbers, where the long lines are effortlessly sustained and the emotions keenly felt, that make the disc so special. Il Pomo d’Oro are on fine form, too, and Emelyanychev, volatile, sensuous and keenly intense, is impressive. An exceptional recital, very highly recommended.' Tim Ashley (12/15)

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Sacred duets

Nuria Rial sop Valer Sabadus counterten Basel Chamber Orchestra

(Sony Classical)

'It’s young countertenor Valer Sabadus who gets the more athletic arias – fiery and explosive in Porpora’s ‘Quasi locuste che intorno’ (Gedeone) and Caldara’s glorious ‘Si pensi alla vendetta’ (La frode della castita). In duets, Sabadus’s smoky, rounded countertenor makes an effective foil for Rial’s bright soprano, bringing depth and colour to the blend, while retaining his own tonal identity.' Alexandra Coghlan (3/17)

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A Royal Trio

Lawrence Zazzo counterten La Nuova Musica / David Bates

(Harmonia Mundi)

'I enjoyed this snapshot of London’s operatic life almost without reservation. Zazzo and the players – not least the fabulous horns – have all the boldness and virtuoso panache one could wish for in the extrovert arias, culminating in a show-stopping ‘Vivi, tiranno’. Even more memorable are the sorrowful and reflective numbers, not only the prison scene from Coriolano but also Ottone’s despairing ‘Tanti affani’ and the ‘sleep’ aria from Admeto, sung and played with exquisite hushed tenderness. The breadth and expressive depth of these numbers, and of the famous ‘hunting’ aria from Giulio Cesare, do indeed clinch Handel’s superiority. But the gap between the great man and his operatic rivals is not as wide as history has decreed.' Richard Wigmore (11/14)

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Vinci Artaserse

Philippe Jaroussky, Max Emanuel Cencic, Franco Fagioli, Valer Sabadus countertens Concerto Köln / Diego Fasolis

(Erato)

'Concerto Köln deliver orchestral accompaniments with their customary punchiness, although I doubt that a bassoon really played during all of the villainous tenor’s recitatives. The entire cast produces exceptionally good singing. Cencic and Jaroussky give a masterclass of dramatic countertenor singing, and Valer Sabadus and Yuriy Mynenko (the dastardly Megabise) are not far behind.' David Vickers (1/12)

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Songs of Myself

Andreas Scholl counterten Shield of Harmony Ensemble / Crawford Young

(Harmonia Mundi)

'Nobody is entirely clear how much Oswald was a composer – a suspiciously large portion of his known music is demonstrably borrowed from others – but he certainly ranks as one of the great linguistic innovators in German poetry and Scholl projects those texts magnificently, drawing on an inexhaustible range of colours and moods. His instrumental ensemble is based around plucked sounds, with an occasional use of vielle; and they are deployed with imagination as well as with a restraint that reflects the very latest position of musicological research on this music. Where the surviving music is monophonic, the newly devised accompaniments are eloquent as well as tactful; where there is written polyphony the scoring is impeccable. The result is an absolute ear-opener.' David Fallows (5/10)

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Porpora Farinelli Arias

Philippe Jaroussky counterten Venice Baroque Orchestra / Andrea Marcon

(Erato)

'Jaroussky’s rapid passagework in quick heroic arias is precise (the spectacular ‘Nell’attendere il mio bene’ from Polifemo) and Cecilia Bartoli pops up for a couple of love duets but the outstanding moments are slow arias that could have been tailor-made for Jaroussky’s sweetly graceful melodic singing (‘Le limpid’onde’ from Ifigenia in Aulide, featuring the pastoral delicacy of horns, flutes and oboes). Andrea Marcon and the Venice Baroque Orchestra produce admirable sentimental finesse or gutsy brilliance as required.' David Vickers (11/13)

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Arias for Guadagni

Iestyn Davies counterten Arcangelo / Jonathan Cohen

(Hyperion)

'While his watchwords were dramatic intensity and emotional truth, Guadagni could match all comers for agility. Davies is no slouch either. Spurred by Arcangelo’s fiery orchestral introduction, he balances elegance and vehemence in the coloratura flourishes of Cyrus’s ‘Destructive war’ (Belshazzar). A bellicose ‘vengeance’ aria from Arne’s Alfred goes with a comparable swing.' Richard Wigmore (8/12)

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