Orfeo(s): Italian and French Cantatas

Album title:
Orfeo(s): Italian and French Cantatas
Clerambault, Pergolesi, Scarlatti and Rameau
Works by Pergolesi, Clérambault, Scarlatti and Rameau
Sunhae Im (soprano); Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
Harmonia Mundi
Catalogue Number:
HMC 902189
BBC Music Magazine
Orfeo(s): Italian and French Cantatas

With the transformative power of music at its heart, the Orpheus myth has inevitably fascinated opera composers as diverse as Monteverdi and Birtwistle. Sunhae Im’s debut recital disc on Harmonia Mundi, however, shrinks stage to salon for a veritable European Union of cantatas mixing Italian and French specimens with a German Baroque ensemble which, like Orpheus himself, dispenses unlimited enchantment.

The strategy is not without pitfalls, however. There’s a decided jolt as Italian tastes yield to French and vice versa, but it’s fascinating to see just how far the Orpheus story can be ‘spun’ according to how it’s cut. Scarlatti and Rameau, for example, focus on the return journey from Hades, thus starting from triumph – something Rameau maintains at the end, despite the denouement, thanks to a little judicious moralising. For Pergolesi and Clérambault, however, the journey starts on the other side of the Styx where mourning and pleading are the order of the day. Curiously, Scarlatti and Rameau, the two extremes of the period, speak with greatest immediacy.

Sunhae Im is an impossible singer to pigeonhole. So much is utterly convincing – from the accepting serenity with which she floats Scarlatti’s ‘Sordo il tronco’ to the way she inhabits the recitatives. Sometimes, though, the vocal tone tightens, and her sense of colour seems to derive more from the notes than from the timbre of the words themselves.


Paul Riley

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