This magnificent recording of Aida, made in Rome, rises to all the musical and dramatic challenges presented by Verdi’s richly-coloured Egyptian epic. Antonio Pappano, once again proving his mastery of Italian opera, moves between sumptuous grandeur and touching intimacy. The responses of the Orchestra e Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia are both immediate and vibrant, while the singers – Anja Harteros, Jonas Kaufmann, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Ludovic Tézier and Erwin Schrott – do justice to every facet of their roles.
It is only recently that two seemingly unconnected names, those of Vivaldi and the viola da gamba, have been uttered in the same breath. The established, uncontested view on the matter was quite simply this: from the middle of the 17th century, the viol, which was still flourishing north of the Alps, had all but disappeared in Italy, where it had been replaced by the bass violin and, subsequently, by the cello.
These three magnificent works belong in the repertoire of cellists everywhere. They are full of Villa-Lobos’ signature exotic instrumental textures, folk-like melodies, and abundant invention. They are also harder than hell to play, and difficult to balance. Villa-Lobos was a cellist himself, and loved the instrument’s low, dark register. Penetrating his dense orchestration without making the instrument sound like a dying cow is just one of the many challenges facing cellists attempting to come to grips with this marvelously expressive music, though recordings can solve this problem with sensitive microphone placement. Antonio Meneses understands both the music and its performance problems, and his lower register manages to sound gruff without undue signs of bovine distress. He’s helped by some very sensitive accompaniments; Pérez projects the music’s lush timbres without laying it on too thick.