Haydn: Armida

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Teldec Das Alte Werk
WORKS: Armida
PERFORMER: Cecilia Bartoli, Christoph Prégardien, Patricia Petibon, Markus Schäfer, Scot Weir, Oliver Widmer; Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: 8573-81108-2
Armida was probably Haydn’s greatest achievement as an opera composer. If it doesn’t have the musical and dramatic concentration of L’isola disabitata or the high spirits of Orlando Paladino it does have Haydn’s most rounded heroine in the title role. Armida was his last stage work for Eszterháza, where it was performed in 1784 and stayed in the repertoire for five years, notching up over 50 performances. It’s full of wonderful things, especially in Act III, where Haydn’s orchestral writing matches the best pages of The Creation. The story deals with the struggle between the Christian knight Rinaldo and the heathen sorceress Armida whose feminine charms are captured in music of an extraordinary range. In this live recording, Cecilia Bartoli gives a suitably over-the-top performance exploring the edges of this fascinating character; by turns vulnerable then wheedling and then suddenly snapping and snarling like a tigress. The supporting cast, especially Christoph Prégardien and Patricia Petibon, are superlative and Harnoncourt makes the score crackle with rasping horns and energetic articulation. As often with Concentus Musicus Wien the sound is a little harsh, but that is a small price to pay for such an immediate and exciting performance. Clive Portbury