Graun

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2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Graun
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Julia Lezhneva
WORKS: Opera Arias: L’Orfeo – ‘Sento una pena’, ‘Il mar s’inalza e freme’, ‘D’ogni aura al mormorar’; Silla – ‘Parmi…ah no!’, ‘No, no, di Libia fra l’arene’; Iphigenia in Aulis – ‘Sforzero’; Coriolano – ‘Senza di te, mio Bene’, Armida – ‘La gloria t’invita’, ‘A tanti pianti miei’; Il Mithridate – ‘Piangete’; Britannico – ‘Mi paventi il figlio indegno’; plus Rodelinda, regina de’Longobardi – Sinfonia
PERFORMER: Julia Lezhneva (soprano); Concerto Köln / Mikhail Antonenko
CATALOGUE NO: 483 1518

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If you want to hear coloratura faster than you’ve ever heard it, buy this recording. And if you want to discover the opera output of Carl Heinrich Graun (1704-59), himself a tenor and one of the leading German composers of Italian opera in his time, this is the only album fully dedicated to his work. But the Russian soprano Julia Lezhneva is not at her best here, either technically or expressively. 

One constraint is the programme: Graun was an expert, but not masterful, composer. The sleeve notes imply that Lezhneva, having first stumbled across one of these arias (‘Mi paventi’ from Britannico), then chose the others. If this is true, her selection wasn’t perhaps the best, because the orchestral writing is pretty shallow. To maintain interest director Mikhail Antonenko sets frantic tempos which, besides getting tedious, starve Graun’s vocal gestures of oxygen. Antonenko’s tempos also corner Lezhneva into singing with a precision bordering on the machine-like.

Despite all this, Lezhneva often scintillates, using her instrument and extemporisations to breathe life into her characters. Sometimes, however, she slips into weird mannerisms, apparently to heighten dramatic impact. In the first track (‘Sento una pena’), when she leans into longer notes, they go flat – and when she swoops up to the final top note, she misses its centre. These uncharacteristic missteps cast a pall over a well-intentioned project. 

Graun’s arias may well merit performance, but this first serious foray into his operatic output might leave you wondering why.

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Berta Joncus