George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Imeneo: ‘Sorge nell’ alma mia’ [5:00]
Floridante: ‘Alma mia’ [5:17]
Arianna in Creta: ‘Salda quercia in erta balsa’ [5:01]
Tamerlano: ‘Benché mi sprezzi’ [5:51]
Serse: ‘Se bramate d’amar chi vi sdegna’ [5:13]
Amadigi di Gaula: ‘Pena tiranna’ [5:18]
Arianna in Creta: ‘Qual leon chef ere irato’ [5:01]
Parnasso in Festa: ‘Non tardate Fauni ancrora’ [5:36]
Agrippina: ‘Come nube, che fugge dal vento’ [4:12]
Radamisto: ‘Ombra cara’ [8:06]
Orlando: ‘Verdi allori’ [5:56]
Parnasso in Festa: ‘Lunga serie d’altri eroi’ [3:32]
Max Emanuel Cencic (counter-tenor)
I Barocchisti, Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzera/Diego Fasolis
rec. Stelio Molo auditorium, Swiss Italian Radio, Lugano, 14-19 July 2009. DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 6945740 [64:03]
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).
John-Pierre Joyce