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Carestini – The Story of a Castrato
Nicola PORPORA (1686-1768)
Siface: Tu che d'ardire m'attendi (Erminio) [3:24]
Giovanni Maria CAPELLI (1648-1726)
I fratelli riconosciuti: Ciel nemico (Attalo) [7:13]
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Arianna in Creta: Ove son... Qui ti sfido (Teseo) [3:58]
Ariodante: Scherza, infida (Ariodante) [9:50]
Alcina: Sta nell'ircana [5:55]
Alcina: Mi lusinga [7:01]
Leonardo LEO (1694-1744)
Farnace: Se mi dai morte (Farnace) [4:04]
Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783)
La clemenza di Tito: Se mai senti (Sextus) [7:37]
La clemenza di Tito: Vo disperato (Sextus) [2:54]
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)
Demofoonte: Sperai vicino il lido [7:39]
Carl Heinrich GRAUN (1704-1759)
Orfeo: Mio bel nieme [7:59]
Orfeo: In mirar la mia sventura [4:24]
Philippe Jaroussky (counter-tenor)
Le Concert d`Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm
rec. IRCAM, Paris, January 2006
VIRGIN CLASSICS 3952422 [72:06]

 

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I chose Jaroussky’s Vivaldi disc, called “Heroes,” as a Record of the Year in 2007 and it was fully deserved – supremely athletic and vital singing (Virgin Classics 3634142 - see review). Now, instead of Ensemble Matheus and Jean-Christophe Spinosi, he’s teamed up with Le Concert d`Astrée and Emmanuelle Haïm for another disc, one that sports the title “Carestini – The Story of a Castrato.”
 
Carestini, born in 1700, was the famed rival of Farinelli and the disc is a kind of musical autobiography that traces music associated with Carestini throughout his long career. This means that we cross Europe in pursuit of the ever-active castrato; Milan, Rome, Vienna, Venice, Naples, London and Dresden. And the composers are ones who wrote for him; Capelli and Porpora early on – Porpora even wrote Flavio Anicio Olibrio in which Carestini and Farnielli (then known merely as Carlo Broschi) first met and sang together. Then of course Handel and the famous spat between Handel’s troupe and the rival Opera of the Nobility whose star import was Carestini’s 1722 Rome rival, none other than Farinelli.
 
The disc then traces these musical mileposts and does so with a judicious selection of arias. Jaroussky’s is a feminine-sounding instrument and one capable of considerable feats of virtuosity. He provides plenty of thrills and sings, for most of the time, with admirable discretion and intelligence as regards divisions, ornaments and voice deployment. He’s aided by Haim, in top form; I only query her questionable orchestral rallentando in the Porpora – it sounds excessively drawn out. Otherwise there are none of the eccentricities and exaggerations that have occasionally betrayed her on disc of late.
 
The Capelli is a finely accomplished piece of work, fluid, flexible, sung with concentrated purity and accompanied by some first rate violin and wind playing. Similarly the runs in the aria from Handel’s Arianna in Creta are crystal clear though once or twice we hear what will become a greater problem later on in the recital – an over-reliance on the chest, or baritone register of his voice. Here it works reasonably well in the interests of theatrical projection. One might object however that Jaroussky’s voice is not one capable of much expressive latitude; its feminine purity is certainly evident in Scherza, infida but there is nothing like the plangency or depth that David Daniels finds in the aria, nor indeed the breadth of colour.
 
His finer qualities can be admired best in Mi lusinga from Alcina which is done with rapt simplicity and finely chiselled tonal qualities. Where he is disappointing is in Gluck’s Sperai vicino il lido from Demofoonte where the intrusive natural voice breaks fracture the purity of the line. This is far more marked in the last aria, from Gluck’s Orfeo - In mirar la mia sventura - which regrettably ends the disc on something of a low. His registral choices here are a serious miscalculation; whilst it’s thrilling to hear the horns given their head, Jaroussky’s descents to the chesty depths are untypical – but here ruinous – examples of a lack of taste.
 
I certainly don’t want to end leaving the impression that this is a pervasive failing but failing it is. In an attempt to bring the more theatrical aspects of the alto castrato to life Jaroussky has overstepped the mark. Elsewhere he shows himself to be a singer of refinement and elegance. There is a fine, excellently illustrated booklet and the texts are in four languages. 
 
Jonathan Woolf   
 



 


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