This is a cracking disc of Handel opera arias from the Croatian-born
counter-tenor Max Emanuel Cencic. Totally captivating from beginning
to end, it includes famous and not-so-well known arias originally
written for both male and female singers.
Other than their sheer beauty and technical demands, there seems
to be no common connection between the arias selected - although
they do extend across Handel’s operatic career, from Agrippina
(Venice, 1709) to Imeneo (London, 1740). Listeners hoping
for some sense of dramatic place within the operas will be disappointed.
There are no introductory recitatives or ensemble pieces. But
that is no great matter. What we have, instead, are - as the
ex-Vienna choir boy explains in the introduction to the sleeve-notes
- a box of brilliant operatic jewels.
Most of the arias were written specifically for male castrati,
including the celebrated Senesino and Giovanni Carestini. But
there are several, too, composed for female singers, such as
the long-serving Margherita Durastanti. Consequently, the recording
features vocal showcases at different registers. Cencic excels
most in the lower range, bringing strength and force to arias
such as ‘Benché mi sprezzi’ from Tamerlano
(track 4) and the simple but affecting ‘Verdi allori’
from Orlando (track 11). But his upper register dexterity
is also on show in the racy ‘Come nube, che fugge del
vento’ from Agrippina (track 9). Here, he is ably
supported by the sinewy strings of I Barocchisti, which, give
an insight into Nero’s scheming, duplicitous character.
Both Cencic and conductor Diego Fasolis have opted for quicker
than average tempos in several of the arias - in ‘Benché
mi sprezzi’ and ‘Pena tirana’ from Amadigi
di Gaula (track 6), for example. This can downplay the intensity
of the music, but is wholly appropriate in the more spirited
arias, such as the opening ‘Sorge nell’ alma mia’
from Imeneo (track 1), in which the orchestra also goes
hell for leather with jabbing strings and fistfuls of harpsichord
notes. Indeed, I Barocchisti come into their own several times,
notably in the tender ‘Pena tiranna’ and ‘Qual
leon che fere irato’ from Arianna in Creta (track
7), which includes some fantastic horn flourishes. Excellent
contributions, too, from the chorus of Swiss Italian radio in
the two excerpts from Handel’s pastoral serenata Parnasso
in Festa (tracks 8 and 12).