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ALBUM TITLE: Rokoko: Hasse Opera Arias
WORKS: Arias: Il Cantico de’ tre Fanciulli – ‘Notte amica, oblio de’ mali’; Arminio – ‘Cadro ma qual si mira’; Il Siroe – ‘La sorte mia tiranna’; Tito Vespasiano – ‘Opprimete i contumaci’ ‘Vo disperto a morte’; L’Olimpiade – ‘Siam navi all’onde algenti’; Impermestra – ‘Ma rendi pur contento’; Il trionfo di Clelia – ‘De’ folgori di Giove’, ‘Dei di Roma, ah, perdonate’; La Spartana Generosa – ‘Se un tenore affetto’; Tigrane – ‘Solca il mar’; Mandolin Concerto in G
PERFORMER: Max Emanuel Cencic (countertenor), Theodoros Kitsos (mandolin); Armonia Atenea/George Petrou
CATALOGUE NO: 478 6418

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Named the ‘father of Music’ in 1777, Hasse soon fell into oblivion. The arias here, most of them recorded for the first time, argue forcefully but not always persuasively for his artistry. Rising star countertenor Max Emanuel CenΩic´’s easy command of the craziest diminutions – the length, rapidity and range of which challenge the physically possible – shows why Hasse’s music enthralled audiences. Authority abounds: CenΩic´ leaps elegantly across his register, and the band intervenes in delightfully unexpected ways to alter tempos and vary melodies. The richness of CenΩic´’s timbre, especially in his bottom range, makes Hasse’s lovely lines even more delectable.

Overall, however, the disc sacrifices sostenuto to bravura, not just in its aria selection but in its omission of recitative, under-representing Hasse’s contributions to cantabile writing. This may be due in part to CenΩic´’s limitations: his Italian pronunciation is idiosyncratic, he seems unable to ‘swell’, or telescope in and out of a straight tone, and he uses vibrato instead of nuanced dynamics when tenderness is called for. In lyrical passages, conductor George Petrou rarely elaborates the aria’s poetry in his phrasing.

Sound production also sacrifices intimacy to brash vocalism. Melodic climaxes are deftly heightened, and timbral contrasts thrown into stark relief, but continuo realisations tend to get lost and instrumental-vocal exchanges pass unnoticed. Hasse deserves championing; this performance shows some, but not all, of the reasons why.

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Berta Joncus