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Randall Scotting (countertenor)
The Crown - Heroic Arias for Senesino
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Laurence Cummings
rec. 2021, St Augustine’s Kilburn, London
Sung texts with English, French and German translations enclosed
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview

The American countertenor Randall Scotting started his singing career not as a boy soprano, but sung as baritone for three years before he shifted to tenor and then, at age 19, he landed as countertenor. In 2012 he moved to London to work on a doctorate at the Royal College of Music, and in 2018 he got his PhD for a thesis on the castrato Senesino and his non-Handelian roles. This disc, which is his debut solo album, is one outcome of his studies.

Senesino, whose real name was Francesco Bernardi (1686 – 1758), was an Italian contralto castrato who collaborated with Handel between 1720 and 1736. During that period he created seventeen leading roles, including Giulio Cesare, Orlando, and Bertarido in Rodelinda. The relations with Handel were, to put it mildly, stormy, and several times he broke the relationship and sang with other companies. On the present disc we hear several arias from operas he sang when he had left London for good, but also several he sang parallel with Handel operas in London and elsewhere. The final aria on the disc is even from an opera he sang in Dresden in 1718, two years before he arrived in London. He was no doubt an accomplished singer and his salaries were high. When he returned to Italy after his London sojourn his singing style was regarded as old-fashioned and after 1740 he retired and built a house in the city of his birth, filled with English furniture.

Whether Randall Scotting’s voice has similar qualities as Senesino’s is of course hard to know, but there is a detailed description of his singing by Quantz, who heard him in Dresden in 1719, which I can’t resist quoting:

“He had a powerful, clear, equal and sweet contralto voice, with a perfect intonation and an excellent shake. His manner of singing was masterly and his elocution unrivalled.
Though he never loaded Adagios with too many ornaments, yet he delivered the original and essential notes with the utmost refinement. He sang Allegros with great fire, and marked rapid divisions, from the chest, in an articulate and pleasing manner. His countenance was well adapted to the stage, and his action was natural and noble. To these qualities he joined a majestic figure.”

And Scotting’s is a powerful voice – and beautiful – and he has the technical accomplishment to negotiate the advanced embellishments that Senesino obviously excelled in. This is at once evident from the opening number, an aria from Eumene, by the little known Giovanni Antonio Giaj, which Senesino sang in Turin in 1737 after his definitive return to Italy. It’s a lively and swinging piece and he is excellently supported by the orchestra.

The aria from Ariosti’s Vespasiano, mounted in London 1724, the same year Senesino premiered Giulio Cesare, shows a wholly different side of the art of Senesino (and Randall Scotting). It is a slow lamentation, very beautiful, very touching, and one notices again the power reserve in the voice. Even though the composers on this disc are largely forgotten today they are no nonentities. Listen for instance to Orlandini’s Se cerca, se dice from his 1737 opera Olimpiade: it is fast and dramatic with sudden pauses and slowing downs – a decidedly personal touch. And it isn’t a one-off affair, since the long aria from Adelaide is also quite special: serious but with a lot of embellishments and long instrumental ritornelli.

A couple of purely orchestral pieces are also included. A short March of the Dead by Ariosti, solemn with percussion, and an even shorter Minuet with featured oboes by Orlandini. The non-person Giovanni Alberto Ristori surprises with riveting aria from Adriano in Siria, where the instrumentation is utterly expressive. The opera was performed in Naples in 1739 and was consequently one of Senesino’s last appearances.

Giovanni Battista Bononcini was more of a celebrity and challenged for some time in the 1720s Handel in popularity in London. His Griselda from 1722 was a great success and some of the music has survived to this very day. Richard Bonynge recorded highlights with Joan Sutherland and others for Decca. Gualtiero’s Dolce sogno, which Senesino created, is a lovely aria, beautifully sung by Randall Scotting and the orchestration with two flutes is also lovely.

Giaj’s Eumene, which opened this recital, returns with a war-like aria with prominent horns, and so does Orlandini’s Adelaide with a long cool aria. Giacomelli’s Non so frenar il pianto is more anonymous, but Bononcini’s Affetto gioia, another aria from his successful Griselda, also has that hard to explain personal touch that makes the aria stand out.

We met Ariosti’s Coriolano near the beginning of the programme with a funeral march. Here, near the end, the title character of the opera is heard in a beautiful aria So che guarda. The last word goes to another Royal character, the title role in Antonio Lotti’s Ascanio, premiered in Dresden in 1718, and thus the earliest music for Senesino on this disc. The aria is accompanied by two oboes, and it confirms with emphasis that these “unknown” composers were great personalities.

As I hope I have managed to explain, I have been deeply impressed by Randall Scotting’s singing. I dearly hope I will hear more of him before long. I have also realised that there are so many obscure composers from the Baroque period who have unfairly fallen into oblivion, and every lover of Baroque opera should take the opportunity to acquire this disc and be enchanted by the riches – most of which have never before been recorded.

The documentation is extensive. We learn a lot about the composers and Senesino, biographies on Randall Scotting, conductor Laurence Cummings and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, which has brightened up the daily life for innumerable music lovers for more than thirty-five years.

Göran Forsling

1. Ricordati che offesa (Eumene) 4:20
EUMENE | Turin 1737
2. Lasso! Ch’io t’ho perduta (Tito) 6:27
VESPASIANO | London 1724
3. Se cerca, se dice (Megacle) 2:07
OLIMPIADE | Florence 1737
4. March of the Dead [instrumental] 1:00
CORIOLANO | London 1723
with Adrian Bending, percussion
5. Adelaide, à te vengo... 0:31
6. Vedrò più liete e belle (Ottone) 7:47
ADELAIDE | Venice 1729
7. Di vassallo, e d’amante... 0:43
8. Son sventurato (Farnaspe) 7:30
ADRIANO IN SIRIA | Naples 1739
9. Dolce sogno (Gualtiero) 5:58
GRISELDA | London 1722
with Lisa Beznosiuk and Katy Bircher, flutes
10. Sì, tu trovasti al fine... 0:35
11. Fra l’orror d’atra forresta (Eumene) 5:20
EUMENE | Turin 1737
with Roger Montgomery and Martin Lawrence, horns
12. Con due pegni sì cari... 0:33
13. Non disperi peregrino (Ottone) 8:33
ADELAIDE | Venice 1729
14. Non so frenar il pianto (Alceste) 4:09
DEMETRIO | Turin 1736
15. Affetto gioia (Gualtiero) 4:56
GRISELDA | London 1722
16. Minuet [instrumental] 1:20
Sinfonia to ADELAIDE | Venice 1729
with Sarah Humphrys and Geoff Coates, oboes
17. So che guarda (Coriolano) 5:34
CORIOLANO | London 1723
ANTONIO LOTTI (1667-1740)
18. Non può quest’alma in sen (Ascanio) 7:00
ASCANIO | Dresden 1718
with Sarah Humphrys and Geoff Coates, oboes

Published: November 17, 2022

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