Arias for Guadagni
The voice of the singer, rather than the inspiration of the composer, often determined how Baroque vocal music was written. This recording dares to let the legacy of a now-obscure vocal star, the 18th-century castrato Gaetano Guadagni, overshadow that of his composers.
Through his effortless line, countertenor Iestyn Davies revivifies Guadagni’s Orphic powers. He is particularly breathtaking in works by Handel, Arne and John C Smith, all of which were designed to show off the castrato’s pellucid timbre. Whether drawing out sustained notes or knitting together filigreed coloratura, he is a paragon of gallant taste: poised, cool and elegant. This is the world premiere recording of Guadagni’s own composition ‘Pensa a serbarmi, o cara’, and many other arias here are rarely heard; Davies makes us wonder why.
With the emotiveness of CPE Bach’s Symphony in D, the programme shifts aesthetic gear. Guadagni participated in the post-1750 musical revolution that transformed Baroque affects into free-flowing expression, and in this performance director Jonathan Cohen and his ensemble Arcangelo capture the rapid, unexpected twists of the younger Bach’s radical imagination. Bach’s operatic counterpart was Gluck, who championed ‘natural’ expression, most famously in his Orfeo ed Euridice. Having trained under actor, playwright and theatre manager David Garrick to inhabit characters, Guadagni reportedly inspired Gluck to emotive extremes. Davies, luminous in pastoral moods, can seem a bit too smooth when traversing Gluck’s far-flung modulations and ruminative melodies. The studio production is ideal, as ever with this label, and this a refreshingly ambitious and superbly realised recording.