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
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.
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