Among my acquaintances there are some music lovers who are more
or less allergic to counter-tenors. To some extent I can understand
this, bearing in mind that many of this breed sport a thin,
vibrato-less, whitish and androgynous voice that in larger
doses can be quite tiring to listen to. Among the latest
generation, however, there have appeared singers with a quite
different voice, fuller of tone, stronger and actually more
beautiful. Jochen Kowalski was possibly the first of this
school when he boarded the stage some fifteen years ago;
playing him to the doubters gave positive reactions.
Andreas Scholl has brought the position a step further. His appearance
at Last Night of the Proms, televised world-wide last year,
made him a household name even beyond the traditional classical
listeners. Since 1998 he has been under an exclusive recording
contract with Decca and they have now, to ride on the wave
of interest in this new super-star, compiled a “Best of” disc
with the pick of Scholl’s Decca recordings. The result is
I cannot detect a single flaw in his vocal equipment. It is a large
voice which can deliver real heft in the fortissimos while
at the other end of the dynamic scale he can thin it out
in marvellous pianissimos and he does this with no loss of
tonal quality. His is a voice of great beauty with a warm
vibrato that he controls at will and can compress or enlarge
as justified by the requirements of the music. His technique
allows him to sing whatever decorations and coloratura he
chooses and he has fabulous breath control. The choice of
items for this compilation is discriminatingly done and gives
the listener plentiful opportunities to hear and admire all
these features. Add to this that he is also an actor, able
to express with vocal means alone the varied feelings in
the texts and the music, and it seems that this not yet forty-year-old
singer, born in Kiedrich im Rheingau in Germany, is among
the best endowed artists, irrespective of voice category,
now before the public.
Check the heading above and you will see that there are several
well-known titbits – Handel’s Largo, Gluck’s Che
Caccini’s Amarilli to name three. There’s also a number
of items you probably haven’t heard before. There isn’t a
dull number on the disc and several of the ‘unknown’ ones
may well become friends for life once heard in Scholl’s readings.
He is also partnered by musicians on the same exalted level.
The quality of the recordings is out of Decca’s top drawer.
We even get full texts and translations, which can’t be taken
for granted on compilations. Well done, Decca!
Listing all the goodies would make this a very long review indeed,
but here are a handful: In Ombra mai fu (tr. 1), without
the preceding recitative, he demonstrates his marvellous
pianissimo. Che faro (tr. 2) is well characterised:
there is real despair in Oh dio, rispondi and in the
reprise of “Che faro” his vibrato reveals even stronger Orfeo’s
The lively Ad te clamanus from Vivaldi’s Salve Regina (tr.
3) is sung with darker tone and perfect coloratura. The Rodelinda aria
(tr. 4) shows his remarkable voice control. In Pergolesi’s Stabat
Mater (tr. 5) he is joined by Barbara Bonney, whose brighter
tones contrast well with Scholl’s more rounded ones. The
aria from Vivaldi’s Nisi Dominus (tr. 6) with its
drone accompaniment is a strangely gripping piece, where
Scholl displays his fabulous breath control in long unbroken
phrases of immense beauty and with exquisite dynamic shading.
His dramatic potential and superb technique is demonstrated
in the nervously tense Gasparini aria (tr. 7). The long Cara
sposa from the first act of Handel’s first London success Rinaldo (tr.
8) is mainly elegiac but with an intensely dramatic outbreak
in the middle.
Temporarily abandoning the baroque field and the Latin/Italian speech-area,
he enters Kathleen Ferrier territory. Blow the wind southerly (tr.
9) begins a cappella and is sung with a lightness
and rhythmic lilt that makes Ferrier’s reading feel stately
and heavy. In The salley gardens (tr. 10) there are
some surprisingly dramatic orchestral interludes. He also
sings a beautiful Korean folksong, according to the booklet
accompanied by only a harp, but I definitely also hear strings.
Jocelyn Pook’s music to The Merchant of Venice (tr.
12) evokes the Elizabethan style of, say, Dowland. It’s a lovely piece
and towards the end he even duets with himself. This is followed
by ‘real’ Dowland, not John however, but his son Robert.
It is a gloomy piece where the text expresses the darkest
death wishes. Scholl sings it with the utmost sensitivity,
discreetly accompanied by Edin Karamazov’s lute (tr. 13).
Caccini’s Amarilli (tr. 14) is given an unusually
intense reading and then comes an aria by Gasparini (tr.
15), where the orchestral
introduction, and indeed the whole aria, has such weight
in the bass that my first thought was that this might be
popped-up baroque. But it isn’t! There is obviously nothing
new under the sun. It is a lovely piece of music that has
already become a favourite and Scholl sings it with a romantic
glow. The same feeling of ‘modern’ is also prevalent in the
Porpora aria (tr. 16).
The concluding two arias from Handel’s operatic masterpiece Giulio
Cesare show again Scholl’s dramatic potential, his
ability to live the part. The first (tr. 17) is mainly
elegiac and he ends it on an ethereal high pianissimo,
while the martial second is furious, fast, with virtuoso
coloratura and it is done with such flair that one sits
I’m afraid the promised handful became a complete run through of all
eighteen numbers, but I couldn’t resist the temptation. I
was completely enthralled from beginning to end and the only
negative consequences I can foresee if recommending the disc
is that a purchase will probably lead to a wish to buy all
the discs this one is culled from. Take that risk!