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Nisi Dominus RV 608 , Concerto in F for strings RV 141, Clarae stellae, scintillate, RV 625, Concert in C for strings RV 109, Vestro Principi Divino, RV 633, Salve Regina, RV 616.
Andreas Scholl (countertenor)
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Paul Dyer.
DECCA 466 964 - 2 (DDD) (69.31)
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Andreas Scholl is a very fine countertenor with a beautiful voice and secure intonation and at one with the music he performs. His is a rare talent. He has marvellous skills of interpretation. To quote but one example the fourth section of Nisi Dominus, He giveth His beloved sleep is absolutely sublime.

But not everybody likes countertenors. They do not have the depth of voice of a contralto or a mezzo and, often , the orchestra has to hold back so as not to swamp the voice. Therefore the music is restricted.

This does not detract from Scholl's marvellous voice and skill. He is a complete musician. He has unequalled artistry. But his type of voice is limited and therefore disappointing to many listeners.

I am one of many who is always disappointed if the ' contralto arias' in Handel's Messiah are sung by countertenors. I have known them perform the bass aria Why do the nations rage? which is, without doubt, an incomprehensible absurdity. It is an aria that needs power and for the orchestra part not to be suppressed. Even good countertenors lack the strength and depth of voice and, as a result, their voice becomes wearisome.

Lovely as Scholl's voice is, even his becomes much of a muchness and this is why two short Concertos are interpolated on this disc but they are so slight and short that they serve no real purpose.

Nisi Dominus is a setting of the Vesper psalm Except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it. It is in nine short sections lasting about 20 minutes. The music is not outstanding and there is not enough drive from the orchestra which consists of period instruments. Would there have been a better drive if modem instruments were used and, had that been the case, would the engineers have problems with balancing the voice?

The Concerto in F lasts four and a half minutes and has reminded me of yet another prejudice in music. I remember many reviewers and musicians saying that Webern's clever Concerto for Nine Instruments could not be a concerto as it only lasts 7 minutes! Vivaldi's is four and a half and is pretty tame and some of this is due to the performance. This type of music needs life and energy. Here it is a corpse.

Clarae stellae, scintillate is a motet written for a contralto, Geltruda, who was born in 1684. Today motets are usually for choirs. It was written for the Feast of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary. It is attractive in parts but it works far better with a full-blooded contralto.

The Concerto in C is another miniature but this time plays for just under five and a half minutes! Again, I want more life in my Vivaldi. These performances are dull! I was now completely bored!

Vestro Principi Divino also employs a dance-like movement. In the second aria this secular style is used which ridicules the already ridiculous words:

0 happy guilt, 0 blessed guilt!

I have never understood why baroque writers and composers, and others, rejoice in sinfulness, shame and guilt. Even the great Handel does it in Messiah in the aria All we like sheep have gone astray and they are so happy about it!

The Salve Regina R V 616 is the best piece on the disc. The fact that the orchestral parts do not rely on strings alone is one asset and also because the music has some drama in it.

But the problem remains.

The recording has gone to the trouble of authenticity for the instruments and yet they miss out on the authenticity in the vocal line. These pieces were not written for a countertenor and, quite frankly they do not work and Vivaldi is the loser and that is not fair. This voice is very limited. It lacks the wide range of colour that all other voices have. And this is one reason why this disc is dull. I will remain faithful to the performances by Teresa Berganza. Far superior!

And yet Scholl is magnificent. He really is.

I cannot award any assessments for the performances or recordings. It is like the situation when one is asked a question and the answer is neither yes or no.

David Wright


David Wright

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