Carnevale 1729 conducted by Stefano Montanari

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COMPOSERS: Albinoni,Giacomelli,Leo and Vinci,Orlandini,Porpora
LABELS: PentaTone
ALBUM TITLE: Carnevale 1729
WORKS: Works by Giacomelli, Orlandini, Albinoni, Porpora, Leo and Vinci
PERFORMER: Ann Hallenberg (mezzo-soprano); Il Pomo d’Oro/Stefano Montanari
CATALOGUE NO: PTC 5186 678 (hybrid CD/SACD)


Venice, Carnival season 1729: the greatest operatic voices of the age assemble. Two of them, the castrato Senesino and mezzo Faustina, have recently returned to Italy after years in London. The castrato Farinelli is to make his Venetian debut. The city’s three leading houses battle for the patronage of aristocrats who have travelled from across Europe to attend. Composers must whip together glittering scores.

Such is the context of the brilliant programme put together by mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg. All but one of her arias here are world premiere recordings – and indeed the operas of Leo, Orlandini, Albinoni and Giacomelli may appear dull at first glance. Realised properly, however, this music is electrifying: with period practice, hair’s breadth subtlety and the courage to radically alter source material, Hallenberg, Il Pomo d’Oro and Stefano Montanari effect the transformation. For example, the simplicity of Orlandini’s pathos-laden ‘Vedrò più liete belle’ deliberately puts voice before composer. Hallenberg draws us in when she seamlessly re-mixes her timbre, when her straight tone yields to vibrato, when she changes a tune heard seconds earlier. In bravura arias, virtuosity must serve expression, and in this art Hallenberg has no equal: from volleys of notes she crafts considered statements. She can colour her instrument, even within a few bars, to sharpen her dramatic point. In re-inventing Senesino’s whispered pathos, or Faustina’s heated protests, Hallenberg shows us why Baroque opera stars were idolised.

The band is just as free, and just as convincing. I love the wilfulness of the continuo players, who challenge what’s on the page at every opportunity. Listen, for instance, to the harpsichordist Federica Bianchi in Giacomelli’s ‘Mi par sentir la bella’: under her touch, an impish keyboard teases the plangent vocalist by subverting the aria’s pulse. Such moves capture the composer’s intention, which was to give artists ideas to run with. Alert to this, Stefano Montanari inspires rather than directs from his violin, vividly painting Hallenberg’s words. The other obbligato players do this as well. The repeats in da capo arias shimmer, thanks to the brisk competition for attention that Montanari provokes
in his ensemble.

Virtue is in the detail, and sound technicians as well as artists have lavished attention on this recording. The acoustic in the Villa San Fermo in Lonigo, Italy, where the sessions were held, gives a final blush of authenticity to the production.

Collective virtuosity is the lifeblood of Baroque music. Hallenberg is dazzling, but as part of a shared project. This performance brings us music never heard before, executed with a rare intensity.


Berta Joncus