Rivals: Arias for Farinelli & Co

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bononcini,Broschi,Leo,Vinci
LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Rivals: Arias for Farinelli & Co
WORKS: Arias for Farinelli & Co
PERFORMER: David Hansen (countertenor); Academia Montis Regalis/Alessandro de Marchi
CATALOGUE NO: 88883744012

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Much hyped by the media for his film-star good looks, Australian countertenor David Hansen is not just a pretty face, as his debut solo album reveals. Featuring arias both gorgeous and gaudy written for some of the great 18th-century Italian castratos, the programme showcases Hansen’s formidable technique and flexibility as he flits from quick-fire coloratura to long-breathed cantilena. Among the highlights are Bononcini’s ‘Cara sposa’, whose yearning melody echoes Handel’s aria of the same name; Vinci’s beguiling ‘Sento due fiamme’ where the solo voice takes on an instrumental quality as it entwines with the obbligato oboe; and the show-stopping ‘Son qual nave’, a ‘suitcase aria’ that the celebrated castrato Farinelli carted round the Baroque opera houses, heard here in a fascinating version which includes his original ornamentation. Hansen dazzles throughout with his vocal fireworks, despite a certain edginess in the upper register, but his real strengths lie in more lyrical singing which highlights the plangent beauty of his voice.

Alessandro de Marchi draws some crack playing – here fiery, there serene – from the Academia Montis Regalis. The repertoire is notoriously challenging to capture on microphone and the recording seems to compress the vocal and dynamic extremes to rather clinical effect. But this is a small caveat to an otherwise impressive debut. 

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Kate Bolton