WORKS: Admeto (excerpts); Orlando (excerpts)
PERFORMER: Axel Köhler (countertenor)Handel Festival Orchestra of Halle Opera/Howard Arman
CATALOGUE NO: 10 547 DDD
Twenty years ago, the idea of a German countertenor was virtually unthinkable (even the countertenor role of Oberon was sung in Walter Felsenstein’s legendary staging of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream by a baritone!), but today, thanks to the success of the Berlin Komische Oper star Jochen Kowalski, their ranks are swelling.
Köhler has a growing reputation as a Handelian: last March I heard him within the space of a week singing in two German productions of Giulio Cesare, as Nireno in Munich and Ptolemy in Berlin. Here he stakes his claim for the imperial role with Caesar’s celebrated ‘huntsman’ aria, and it is the expressive highlight of an enjoyable, well-planned disc on which some of the greatest of Handel’s alto castrato arias are interspersed with orchestral numbers – expertly played by the period instruments of the Halle Handel Festival Orchestra under Arman. The basic sound of Köhler’s voice is not exceptional – he has a tendency to hoot – but his coloratura technique is staggering and he takes plenty of opportunities to display it here in Orlando’s ‘Fammi combattere’, Rinaldo’s ‘Venti, turbini’ and Guido’s ‘Rompo i lacci’ from Flavio. Recommended. Hugh Canning