Arias for Guadagni

Album title:
Arias for Guadagni
Composer(s):
Arne, CPE Bach, Gluck and Guadagni, Handel, Hasse, Smith
Works:
Arias
Performer:
Iestyn Davies (countertenor); Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen
Label:
Hyperion
Catalogue Number:
CDA67924
Performance:
starstarstarstarstar
Recording:
starstarstarstarstar
5
Reviewer:
BBC Music Magazine
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.

Berta Joncus