Caldara in Vienna

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Caldara
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Castrato arias from L’Olimpiade, Demofoonte, La clemenza di Tito, Temistocle, Scipione nelle Spagne, Ifigenia in Aulide, Adriano in Siria, Lucio Papiro dittatore, Enone, and Achille in Sciro
PERFORMER: Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor); Concerto Köln/Emmanuelle Haïm (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: 648 8102

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The castrato voice, with its preternatural mix of masculine power and feminine range, inspired such memorable operatic heroes as Handel’s Orlando and Julius Caesar, Gluck’s Orfeo, and Idamante in Mozart’s first version of Idomeneo. Less well-known, but no less thrilling, are the castrato arias by Handel’s younger contemporary Antonio Caldara, many of which
are here enjoying their first outing since the 18th century.

Devised and researched by Philippe Jaroussky (proving he is not just a pretty voice), this exhilarating programme is a roller-coaster of hair-raising virtuosity and heart-stopping intensity. Jaroussky’s accounts are technically flawless, emotively involved. He brings pathos to ‘Misero pargoletto’ (Demofoonte), yearning sensuality to ‘Vado, o sposa’ (Enone), passion and drama to La clemenza di Tito.

And his indefinably androgynous sound surely suggests something of the ethereal quality that made the castrato voice so alluring. But not all the credit should go to the Frenchman: the players of Concerto Köln blaze, seethe, simmer and sigh in response to the spirited direction of Jaroussky’s compatriot Emmanuelle Haïm.

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My only caveat is that Jaroussky has a somewhat lean palette of vocal colours, and while the close-recorded perspective adds microscopic detail, it makes the voice sound dry, lacking in resonance. But this is a small price to pay for an otherwise top-notch disc. Kate Bolton