Armonia Atenea conducted by George Petrou perform Handel’s Arminio

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Arminio
PERFORMER: Max Emanuel Cencic, Layla Claire, Ruxandra Donose, Vince Yi, Juan Sancho, Xavier Sabata, Petros Magoulas; Armonia Atenea/George Petrou
CATALOGUE NO: Decca 478 8764

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Premiered in 1737, Arminio is a tale of conflicted loyalties and heroic sacrifice in Roman-occupied Germany. It was previously recorded, in 2001, by Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco, with Vivica Genaux in the title role (now reissued on Erato). George Petrou’s new recording with Armonia Atenea is the first complete version. Of greater interest is the muscularity of his interpretation, with a thrillingly abrasive overture and a third act of great plangency. Petrou stops short of adding extra percussion or sound effects, yet manages to suggest that violence might erupt at any moment. In Arminio’s greatest aria, ‘Vado a morir’, the dynamic and expressive range is breathtaking: a survey of Handelian style in under seven minutes of music.

As the leading man, countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic is still sweet and flexible of voice but with new strength and depth to his sound. Layla Claire as Tusnelda matches Cencic in urgency and ardour in their Act I duet ‘Il fuggir, cara mia vita’ and offering pin-drop intensity in Act III’s ‘Ho veleno’. Xavier Sabata is luxury casting in the two-aria role of Tullio. Tenor Juan Sancho, bass Petros Magoulas and mezzo Ruxandra Donose are effective as Varo, Segeste, and Ramise. Countertenor Vince Yi throws his all at the soprano castrato role of Sigismondo, delivering some piercing top Bs, all candyfloss and helium. Sadly, some roles are still better left to the ladies.

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Anna Picard