Handel – Mezzo Soprano Opera Arias

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Arias from Imeneo, Floridante, Arianna in Creta, Tamerlano, Serse, Amadigi di Gaula, Parnasso in festa, Agrippina, Radamisto & Orlando
PERFORMER: Max Emanuel Cencic (countertenor); Coro della Radiotelevisione svizzera; I Barocchisti/Diego Fasolis
CATALOGUE NO: 694 5740

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This terrific new Handel disc could be re-titled ‘Great arias from the lesser-known operas’. It features the Croatian Max Emanuel Cencic – a countertenor of brilliantly versatile artistry with a voice at once individual-toned and smoothly full-bodied across a wide range – supported by the excellently lively, keen-spirited Swiss accompanists Fasolis and I Barocchisti, and (in two items) the Radiotelevisione svizzera chorus.

The result of their collaboration is the best sort of programming ingenuity: a collection of gems relatively little known – of 12 numbers only those from Radamisto and Orlando count as familiar favourites – which adds up to a comprehensive summation of Handel’s Italian-opera genius. 

As the CD moves through moods fiery, boastful and comic, melancholy, love-torn and grief-stricken, even Handel’s longest-standing fans may find themselves marvelling anew at their composer’s encyclopaedic mastery of the vocal melody – both singer’s and instrumentalists’ – his quasi-Shakespearean art of fixing character, emotion and mood in a single unforgettable melodic phrase. Cencic shows himself exceptionally alert to vocal colour and capable of tinting and illuminating the words without ever pulling the phrases out of shape.

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On the simplest level, he makes these tunes irresistible: whether it was to experience again the unadorned andante beauty of Floridante’s ‘Alma mia’, the minor-key pathos of Dardano’s ‘Pena tiranna’ (from Amadigi), or the blissful siciliana sequences of Apollo and his choral nature-sprites in ‘Non tardate Fauni ancora’ (from the serenata Parnasso in festa), I found myself constantly working the repeat button. Indeed, I’ve not felt so enthusiastic about any countertenor since Michael Chance’s young days. Max Loppert