Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782)
La Clemenza di Scipione: ‘Pugna il guerriero’ [4:13]
Artaserse: ‘Perché tarda è mai la morte’ [3:10]
Concert aria: ‘Sentimi, non partir… Al mio bene’ [7:15]
Orfeo ed Euridice: ‘La legge accetto’ [5:09]
Adriano in Siria: ‘Cara, la dolce fiamma’ [13:08]; ‘Tutti nemici, e rei’ [2:46]
Carattaco: ‘Perfida Cartismandua!’ [3:11]; ‘Fra l’orrore’ [2:46]
Artaserse: ‘No, che ha la sorte’ [1:29]; ‘Vo solcando un mar crudel’ [6:49]
Concert aria: ‘Ebben si vada… Io ti lascio’ [5:57]
Temistocle: ‘Ch’ io parta?’ [5:11]
Philippe Jaroussky (counter-tenor)
Le Cercle de l’Harmonie/Jérémie Rhorer
rec. Church of Notre Dame du Liban, Paris, May 2009. DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5099969456404 [63:08]

Hot on the heels of their recent release of Vivaldi opera arias, Virgin Classics has again turned out a corker with this disc of ‘forgotten’ castrato arias by J.C. Bach.

Well-known as a composer of orchestral and instrumental music, the London Bach’s operatic output has been woefully neglected both on stage and in the recording studio. Very little of it is currently available, and several works on this disc here receive their first recordings.

Admittedly, the quality of Bach’s operatic work is uneven. One or two numbers on this disc make for enjoyable listening, but are hardly memorable. The arias from Adriano in Siria (tracks 6 and 7), for example, sound like standard, serviceable castrato fare. Indeed, the opera as a whole left its original 1765 London audience cold. But there are many more highlights, both musically and historically. The two concert arias and their preceding recitatives, ‘Sentimi, non partir … Al mio bene’ (tracks 3 and 4) and ‘Ebben si vada … Io ti lascio’ (tracks 12 and 13) are quite astonishing for their vocal beauty, dramatic intensity and instrumental variety. The addition of pianoforte parts makes them particularly attractive. Equally beguiling is ‘Fra l’orrore’ (track 9) from Carattaco. Not only does it make for fascinating listening by having a very British subject matter set to an Italian libretto - the opera concerns the derring-do exploits of Celtic king Caractacus - but the opening woodwind writing clearly prefigures Mozart – whom the kindly Bach befriended in London in 1764-65.

Counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky delivers each aria and recitative with precision and emotional engagement, although one occasionally gets the feeling that some of the dramatic tension is a little overplayed. He is at his best in the two concert arias, which are broadly reminiscent of Haydn’s London arias some twenty years later. He also excels in the unashamed acrobatics of the opening ‘Pugna il guerriero’, and ‘Vo solcando un mar crudel’ (track 11). Le Cercle de l’Harmonie provides fine support, letting rip with some tricky decoration in the strings, and making the most of occasional flourishes for horns and trumpets.

John-Pierre Joyce