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Early Music

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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Orlando furioso RV 728 (c. 1727)
Tesori Del Piemonte Vol. 24; Opere Teatrali Vol. 4
Marie-Nicole Lemieux, contralto (Orlando)
Jennifer Larimore, mezzo (Alcina)
Veronica Cangemi, soprano (Angelica)
Philippe Jaroussky, contro-tenor (Ruggiero)
Lorenzo Regazzo, bass baritone (Astolfo)
Ann Hallenberg, mezzo (Bradamante)
Blandine Staskiewicz, mezzo (Medoro)
Choeur Les Elements
Ensemble Matheus/ Jean-Christophe Spinosi.
Recorded in June 2004 in Eglise Abbatiale de Daoulas, Bretagne, France DDD
OPUS 111/NAÏVE OP30393 [3 CDs: 70:37 + 66:19 + 45:38]

This recording of Vivaldi’s opera Orlando furioso is the most recent operatic release in the continuing Opus 111/Naïve Vivaldi series. The series is taken from the undisputed treasure trove that is the collection of four hundred and fifty Vivaldi manuscripts housed in the National University Library at Turin in Italy. The enterprising Opus 111/Naïve enable the listener to explore the extensive variety of Vivaldi’s output by using the most eminent late-baroque vocal specialists and finest possible period instrumental and vocal ensembles in the field of historically informed performance.

The success of this Vivaldi series has been acknowledge widely across the music industry to considerable critical acclaim and has now reached sixteen recordings. Notably the performance of Vivaldi’s Vespri Solenni per Assunzione di Maria Vergine under the direction of Rinaldo Alessandrini on OP30383 has won several highly prestigious awards. There are a projected fifty more recordings to be issued over the next ten years with at least one operatic work planned for release each season.

The copious booklet notes are interesting and highly informative and need to be owing to the usual convoluted nature of the libretto by Grazio Braccioli and the tangled chronicle leading up to this recording. We are told that in this adaptation of the most famous episode from Ariosto's epic poem the first performance was given at the Teatro San Angelo, Venice, Italy in the autumn of 1727. Under the direction of Jean-Christophe Spinosi this is the first recording of the meticulous reconstruction of Vivaldi's original score.

In Orlando furioso, Vivaldi depicts a set of astonishingly lively and individualised characters in an outrageous plot that moves at a breathless pace. This gallery of remarkable characters features Orlando, here no longer as a baritone, but as a female contralto who is given a series of astounding virtuoso arias. Also present is the tragic figure of the sorceress Alcina, a voluptuous Angelica, the valiant Ruggiero and the proud female warrior Bradamante. To do full justice to this meticulously assembled cast of vocal types, it was necessary to find seven outstanding singers possessing not only considerable technical and expressive capacities, but also subtle differences in timbre and colour.

The talented and exciting cast assembled here is certainly up to the considerable challenges of the demanding score. In the title role the acclaimed young Canadian alto Marie-Nicole Lemieux is in sumptuous voice with a sense of real dramatic commitment. The celebrated mezzo Jennifer Larmore does not disappoint and gives a thrilling and striking performance in her role as Alcina. As Ruggiero the contro-tenor Philippe Jaroussky, winner of the 2004 Victoires de la Musique in the 'Vocal Discovery' category is dramatic and eloquent with an appealing timbre to his voice. I particularly enjoyed hearing Argentine-born soprano Veronica Cangemi, who as Angelica gives a most appealing performance with expert and admirable execution.

This may prove to be the golden age for period informed performances of Vivaldi scores on record. There are several outstanding specialist period instrument ensembles that have come to prominence on the late-baroque scene in the last ten or so years and have successfully ratcheted-up the level of technical proficiency and interpretation by several notches. Undoubtedly the earlier pioneering interpretations of Vivaldi and baroque music in general using period-instruments were dictated primarily by the severe limitations of their instruments. Consequently performance style often came across as technically mechanical, rather lacklustre, frequently insipid and even sterile. These contemporary specialist performers explore and exploit the strength of their period instruments rather than being restricted by the weaknesses. The most acclaimed specialist ensembles include most notably: the Concerto Italiano under Rinaldo Alessandrini; the Venice Baroque Orchestra under Andrea Marcon; Europa Galante under Fabio Biondi; The English Concert now under the direction of Andrew Manze; the Ensemble Explorations under Roel Dieltiens; the Freiburger Barockorchester under Gottfried von der Goltz and the Polish based Arte Dei Suonatori under Rachel Podger.

On this evidence the French forces of the Choeur Les Elements and the period instrument Ensemble Matheus under the expert direction of founder member Jean-Christophe Spinosi also prove themselves to be at the forefront of historically informed late-baroque interpretations. I just love their unbridled enthusiasm for the score with a performance highly infused with immediacy and vitality without ever losing that element of stylishness.

The sound quality is most pleasing and the annotation is of an exceptionally high standard. This Vivaldi series continues to go from strength to strength.

Michael Cookson



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