HANDEL Opera Arias (Jaroussky)
An all-Handel album from Philippe Jaroussky was always waiting to happen. And it’s refreshing that the French falsettist – as much counter-soprano as countertenor – has avoided the obvious in favour of operas that, except for Serse and (to a lesser extent) Radamisto, remain on the Handelian fringes. Rarity goes hand in hand with maximum variety of expression, in numbers that range from a rampaging bravura aria from Riccardo primo to a dulcet pastoral from Amadigi and an equally beguiling siciliano from Ezio. Probing deeper, Tolomeo’s ‘poison’ aria, permeated by stifled violin gasps, and Siroe’s noble, anguished prison scena are just the kind of pieces in which Handel invariably left his operatic rivals standing.
Many of these arias were composed for Handel’s star castrato of the 1720s, Senesino, an insufferable tantrum queen idolised in London for his sweet, clear tone and mastery of both the ‘pathetic’ and the brilliant styles. Tantrums apart, that description seems apt for Philippe Jaroussky, who excels alike in limpid tenderness, soul-searching and rafter-raising virtuosity.
With a brighter, flutier timbre than his counterparts Iestyn Davies and the more muscular-toned Max Emanuel Cencic, Jaroussky soars effortlessly, with no hint of hootiness, up to top Gs and As. But his middle range is now fuller and warmer, heard to specially eloquent effect in Radamisto’s two laments and the gentle Ezio aria, enhanced by the sensitive, even sensuous phrasing and colouring of the cosmopolitan period band. Jaroussky’s dramatic intensity and expressive Italian pay rich dividends in the Siroe and Tolomeo solos, and in Radamisto’s ‘Vile, se mi dai vita’, where voice and strings vie in venomous indignation at the ghastly Tiridate. Like all the best countertenors (and, one imagines, their castrato predecessors), Jaroussky makes the reams of coloratura both glittering and dramatically vivid, not least in Guido’s coruscating ‘vengeance’ aria from Flavio – a performance that would bring the house down in concert. My only cavil, more trifling now than it would have been in the 18th century, is that Jaroussky lacks a true trill. But this is a winner of a Handel recital whose appeal should reach far beyond the singer’s numerous fans. The recording is agreeably resonant, while the classily produced booklet includes an informative essay by David Vickers that deftly places each item in its dramatic context.