Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
O mie porpore più belle RV 685 [9:27]
Cessate, omai cessate RV 684 [13:18]
Care selve, amici prati RV671 [11:06]
Alla Caccia dell’alme e de’ cori RV 670 [10:05]
Amor, hai vinto RV 683 [16:18]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Pur nel sonno almen tal’ora [20:18]
Tinte a note di sangue [13:48]
Scritte con falso inganno [10:46]
Dir vorrei [15:39]
Antonio CALDARA (1671-1736)
Sempre mi torna in mente [14:03]
Non v’è pena [13:01]
Da tuoi lumi [6:00]
Chiacona - instrumental [5:37]
Amante recidivo (Che speravi) [11:49]
Vedrò senz’onde il mare [10:28]
DVD - Max Emanuel Cencic: The Portrait [62:00]
Subtitles: German, French, English
Picture Format NTSC Colour 4:3;
DVD Format DVD5:
Sound Format 2.0 stereo [62:00]
Max Emanuel Cencic (counter-tenor)
Ornamente 99/Karsten Erik Ose
rec. April 2003, Cologne, German Radio, Funkhaus, Sendesaal (Vivaldi); October 2004, St Hubertus Catholic Church, Düsseldorf Itter (Scarlatti); October 2004 Cologne, German Radio, Funkhaus, Sendesaal (Caldara)
Texts and translations included
CAPRICCIO C7142 [60:34 + 60:33 + 61:49 + DVD 62:00]

This series of Italian cantatas by three eminent contemporaries makes for refined and focused listening. Each composer, Vivaldi, Scarlatti and Caldara is given one disc, lasting an hour. The final disc is a DVD documentary devoted to the counter-tenor, Max Emanuel Cencic.

Cencic is one of the leading counter-tenors of his generation, a virtuoso of the first rank, and one whose voice is fit to be described as that of a male mezzo-soprano. More to the point perhaps, and a matter beyond mere nomenclature, is the fact that it marries virtuosity with colour. The result is singing of great reach and range, in which verbal sensitivity and bravura execution are usually put at the service of the music. Despite his capacity for florid operatic gestures, in these cantatas, even those which subsume some operatic mores, Cencic remains a wholly sympathetic interpreter.
It helps that in Ornamente 99, directed by Karsten Erik Ose, he has personable and instrumentally rich colleagues. The avian flutes in Vivaldi’s O mie porpore più belle offer rich support, and so too does the solo violin in the last aria, in which devotion and panache are allied. Cencic’s instinct for the dramatic is exemplified by Cessate, omai cessate where one finds that he cannily deploys his lower chest voice to generate an almost operatic tension. Elsewhere in these incisive, dramatic Vivaldi cantatas, one finds Cencic’s divisions spot-on, his legato pure and unwavering, and his recitatives excellently paced. Ose allows his obbligato players full rein where needed; bassoon and cello especially. He also galvanizes his strings in the stormy Amor, hai vinto, a ‘sea tossed’ cantata ripely encouraging surging string interjections. The strumming sea wash is excellently conveyed. In this Vivaldi selection I would only question the tempo for Preso sei mio, the last of the two arias of Alla Caccia dell’alme e de’ cori. Surely it’s too slow?

Domenico Scarlatti was another master of the Italian cantata as his four examples demonstrate. His are somewhat more extensive settings than the handful of Vivaldi works in the genre. In Pur nel sonno almen tal’ora he even writes an orchestral introduction, a feature Vivaldi didn’t indulge in his more compact settings. Again the instrumental playing is deftly pointed, not least the flute playing. The emotive instability of the final aria of Tinte a note di sangue - in which plangency is abruptly overtaken by fast divisions, and then back again - is excellently realised, without a hint of over-theatricality. Scarlatti gives his vocal soloist plenty of fast divisions to surmount and this means that ensemble with instrumental soloists needs to be at the highest pitch of engagement, which here it is.

Caldara was another supremely gifted writer for the voice and in his Sempre mi torna in mente he ensures that the solo violin interplays with the singer. In fact this whole sonata witnesses a range of obbligato opportunities for expressive instrumental commentary. The accompanying orchestral colours in Non v’è pena provide a rich texture for Cencic, and here he sounds not unlike David Daniels. Caldara writes beautifully for bassoon and for the chalumeau, both of which are elegantly played, and provide a wider range of colour.
Throughout these three discs, in fact, the performances are exemplary.
The DVD introduces us to the man behind the singer. He was born in Zagreb, the son of a conductor father. He began to sing early and there is numerous film here of him as a child and young man. His enthusiasm for opera is paramount, and his first musical thrill was hearing the Queen of the Night’s famous aria. Later he moved to Austria and sang in the Vienna Boys Choir, touring worldwide. He attributes the real start of his career to a Japanese tour in 1992. He suffered a crisis and depression, during which he withdrew from music, but returned renewed. He finds concert performances ‘sterile’ but opera enchanting. He is an aesthete. Music, cooking, florid gowns and interior design are passions - clearly he’d be no good on the rugby field - and he has ideas about a shared Renaissance-based European identity. He cites Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal as sharing it, so it’s too bad if you’re from the cold Protestant North - though I suspect the rheumy-eyed Dutch and British would think Cencic somewhat affected, to put the thing mildly.

If you’re an admirer of singer and repertoire then this box will prove extremely enticing.
Jonathan Woolf  

If you’re an admirer of singer and repertoire then this box will prove extremely enticing.

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