Handel, Albioni, Lotti, Scarlatti, Porpora

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COMPOSERS: Albioni,Handel,Lotti,Porpora,Scarlatti
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Andreas Scholl, Arias for Senesino
WORKS: Various Arias
PERFORMER: Andreas Scholl (countertenor); Accademia Bizantina/Ottavio Dantone
CATALOGUE NO: 475 6569
Despite his porcine features and arrogant temperament, ‘il Senesino’ had a voice and stage presence that inspired contemporary audiences and composers to wax lyrical. This disc of works written for the alto castrato includes some of Handel’s most celebrated arias – among them the ravishing ‘Dove sei’ from Rodelinda, Giulio Cesare’s bellicose ‘Al lampo dell’armi’ and the heart-stoppingly beautiful ‘Cara sposa’ from Rinaldo – together with obscure but nonetheless appealing works from operas by Albinoni, Lotti and Alessandro Scarlatti.

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It’s doubtful that a countertenor could ever quite replicate the unearthly sound of the castrato but Andreas Scholl surely has the same combination of sweetness and fire that so moved 18th-century audiences on hearing Senesino. Scholl’s mature voice may have lost the artless purity that made his early performances so moving but he has developed the confidence and showmanship of a seasoned dramatic artist. At times he resorts to certain affected mannerisms – swooping and forcing the voice – but these do not seriously detract from his enviable technique and innate musicianship.

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Scholl’s collaboration with Accademia Bizantina is proving to be a fruitful one which has breathed life into some of the forgotten delights of Baroque music. Ottavio Dantone coaxes some thrilling playing from the ensemble, combining refined lyricism with flamboyant virtuosity in true Italian style. The effects could make even a 21st-century listener swoon. Kate Bolton