Max Emanuel Cencic accurately describes himself as a mezzo-soprano rather than a counter tenor. His tone, while pure, is colorfully nuanced, nothing like the blanched purity that was once (but is thankfully no longer) stereotypical of counter tenors. A lifetime of singing the most advanced repertoire has given him a confident technique, exceptionally sure intonation, astonishing vocal power, and an effortless-sounding flexibility; at the age of six he sang the Queen of the Night's "Der Hölle Rache on Zagreb" television, and he went on to become a soloist with the Vienna Boys' Choir. On this album he tackles some of Handel's most virtuosic and demanding mezzo arias, most of them relatively unfamiliar. /quote]
For the later part of her career, Italian mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli has apparently settled on a campaign of major conceptual releases covering all-but-unknown repertory, and St. Petersburg fits right in. It's a collection of arias from operas written in the second half of the 18th century for the Russian imperial court, which had imported the best Italian and German composers money could buy. The names of all but Mozart's contemporary Domenico Cimarosa are unknown today. Most of the arias are in Italian, but a couple are in Russian, and to untutored ears Bartoli brings her trademark passion to them. This is the kind of release where one can quibble with any number of details. Bartoli sounds thick in some places, strained in others. The material is a bit uneven, with especially the last two pieces creating a bit of a letdown, although much of it does indeed live up to major-forgotten-works billing. The booklet brings up the Catherine the Great horse legend for no very good reason. Yet, as so often with Bartoli, the whole adds up to so much more than the sum of the objections. She is fearless in many ways here, not just in convincingly bringing home repertory her listeners will never have heard, but in blowing past classifications of vocal range: Bartoli may conventionally be seen as a mezzo, but the material here ranges from full-blown opera seria soprano almost down to contralto in a few cases, where Bartoli's voice takes on a lovely burnished tone. Whatever faults you might find, this is tremendously exciting stuff, not boring for a second. (James Manheim)
Virgin Classics invites you to enjoy the world premiere recording of Viviadi's Il Farnace in a version that Vivaldi prepared specially for the city of Ferrara in 1737-38 after its success in Venice. This is not only the first time the Ferrara version of Farnace has been recorded, but also the first time it has been heard, as the planned performances of 1738 were cancelled due to the local failure of the Vivaldi opera that preceded it, Siroe.
Gossec made an important contribution to the development of French symphonic music and played a central role in Parisian musical life for almost three-quarters of a century. The opera 'Le Triomphe de la République' was composed in 1793 folowing the French Revolution and wonderfully demonstrates the musical movement that France experienced following the change in political climate. Music was recognized as a medium for the diffusion of new ideas and 'Le Triomphe de la République' was a case in point. It was written in the wake of popular enthusiasm at the news of the army's victory at the battle of Vlamy in 1792 against the anti-French troops led by the Duke of Brunswick. It features folk music and popular dances of the day reflecting a kind of life quite distinct from that of intellectual, aristocratic society. This is an opera that can be seen as redefining music for the new age; the awareness that new relationships were being formed within society as a whole is expressed stylistically by multi-levelled metaphors, and also by the interaction of different kinds of sound. I Barocchisti have a worldwide reputation for reviving vocal and instrumental works of the Baroque period and have earned worldwide success with live performances and recordings. Swiss conductor Diego Fasolis has received glowing reviews for his previous releases with this ensemble.
Giovanni Paisiello, whose works Mozart thought enough of to study closely, was mostly forgotten in the nineteenth century, and this Passione de Gesù Cristo remained buried until 1998. This is its second recording; a Polish version on the Arts label, from that year, is also available. The oratorio's text is by the preeminent operatic librettist of the eighteenth century, Pietro Metastasio. One can easily understand why the work has never had a critical mass of general listeners, but for those interested in Mozart's world it's truly fascinating. This passion story features neither Jesus nor Pontius Pilate, nor any of the other usual personages. Instead it takes place after Christ's crucifixion, recounted by St. John, Joseph of Arimatea, and Mary Magdalene (in surely her biggest part until Jesus Christ Superstar came along) to St. Peter, with the accompaniment of a chorus of Christ's other followers; in the second part, all bewail the corruption of Jerusalem and look forward to Christ's resurrection.
Russian Julia Lezhneva here shows an admirably gutsy attitude toward developing her repertory, avoiding familiar milestones in favor of an original project. Here she is paired with French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky in a program of works by Pergolesi for two high voices, strings, and continuo: the Stabat mater, for which there are plenty of other recordings, and the less-common Laudate pueri dominum and Confitebor tibi Domine. The distinctive feature here – which might tempt some to use the word "gimmick," but listen before doing so – is that Lezhneva fashions her voice into a very close copy of Jaroussky's, which is not at all an easy thing to do. Put this together with the precise, rather edgy playing of I Barocchisti under Diego Fasolis, and the result is a rather otherworldly Stabat mater. The tragic quality of the work and its association with Pergolesi's short life are played down (probably a good thing, for Pergolesi wasn't planning to die at age 26) in favor of creating a hypnotic globe of sound from which the two singers' voices emerge as flashing accents along with the punchy sound of Fasolis' strings. It may not be to everyone's taste, but it's quite an accomplishment, and the album continues to serve notice of Lezhneva's emergence as a major star in Baroque singing.–James Manheim
Until recently all traces of Alessandro Scarlatti’s oratorio Il martirio di Santa Cecilia had been lost. Discovered in the manuscript collection of the Fondation Martin Bodmer in Cologny, near Geneva, this oratorio which had been undiscovered for decades was immediately performed in Zurich. Karl Böhmer (the booklet author) and Oliver Mattern produced the first modern edition of the work. The interpreters on that occasion are again featured on the present recording. This sacred tragedy could rightly be termed one of the most dramatic and mature oratorios of the Roman baroque. Although there are no choruses, the action is portrayed with long recitative dialogues between the protagonists, and the music’s strongest moments come when the recitatives go over into expressive accompagnati, widely ranging ariosi, and affective arias. Like all of Scarlatti’s gloomy, fatalistic oratorios, this work culminates in bloody scenes of murder and martyrdom.