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Les Contre-Ténors
see end of review for track listing & performance details
No recording venues or dates given.
No texts enclosed.
NAÏVE V5328 [68:04]

This collection of baroque arias - and a couple of Elizabethan lute songs - is a splendid taster for those who haven’t yet exploited this niche of the music: the counter-tenors. This voice-type has existed at least since the 14th century, mainly in polyphonic compositions and later it was also common in solo songs and arias. During the 19th century it fell out of fashion. It was only in the second half of the 20th century that the voice-type was revived, and it was Alfred Deller (1912 - 1979) who was the ground-breaker. In 1948 he founded his Deller Consort, specializing in historically informed performances. Among his early followers can be mentioned James Bowman (b. 1941), Paul Esswood (b. 1942) and René Jacobs (b. 1946) - the latter nowadays pursuing a highly successful career as conductor. During the last two-three decades there has been an increased interest in the counter-tenor voice, both from performers and audiences. Eight singers of undisputed high quality can be heard here, and they are only the tip of the iceberg.
Repertoire-wise very little is standard fare - only the aria from Orfeo ed Euridice (tr. 4) is really well-known - but the composers’ names should be a guarantee that this is music on a high level. Antonio Vivaldi is primarily known for his instrumental music but he composed enormous amounts of sacred choral music and more than forty operas that are musically on a par with Handel’s. Nisi Dominus is both personal in style and melodically pleasing, and as sung here by the superb Philippe Jaroussky it could very well become a favourite aria: what beauty, what breath-control, what musical phrasing. The other track with Jaroussky, the aria from Orlando furioso (tr. 8), is equally fine. Here the singer shares the stage with the flautist Jean-Marc Goujon. This is superb music making on all fronts. The pioneer James Bowman, supposedly recorded in the 1970s or 1980s, is more alto-ish in timbre in the Dixit Dominus (tr. 5). A lively aria from Griselda (tr. 9) is exquisitely sung by Iestyn Davies, a great admirer of Bowman. His technique is superb. The Korean David DQ Lee sings the long phrases in an aria from Orlando (tr. 12) with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of air and beautiful tone. Dominique Visse, born 1955, has a leaner, thinner voice but his coloratura and trill are masterly in the dramatic aria from Montezuma (tr. 13). Another Frenchman, Gerard Lesne, belongs to the same generation. He offers the only French number, from Charpentier’s oratorio (tr. 10) and displays an uncommonly deep and dark voice - but impeccable technique in the fast finale. He also executes two songs by John Dowland with good feeling for the text (trs. 6 and 14) and in Purcell’s O solitude (tr. 3) with plaintive tone.
James Bowman sings Che faro fromOrfeo ed Euridice (tr. 4) with the same rounded tone as Kathleen Ferrier on an old Decca recording from the 1940s - one of earliest records. Where Ferrier feels drowsy at a very expansive tempo, Bowman’s Orfeo, though sad, is more positive and alive. In the aria from Handel’s Giulio Cesare (tr. 11) he is dramatic and duets boldly with an impertinent French horn.
The German Andreas Scholl has become one of the foremost Bach interpreters and his two cantata arias (trs. 2 and 7) are lessons in powerful and robust singing with a focus on the texts.
The bonus track, from the motion picture soundtrack for the film Farinelli, il castrato, was no doubt what triggered the interest in high male voices back in 1994. This is, it has to be admitted, a falsification, insofar as they have mixed Derek Lee Ragin’s counter-tenor with Ewa Mallas-Godlewska’s soprano to create a sound as close as possible to that of the castrato singer. The result is an exhibition in virtuoso singing, almost incredible. In recent years Cecilia Bartoli has recorded the same aria, from Broschi’s Artaserse in the album Sacrificium. If you haven’t heard that disc I urge you to invest in it without delay. However, for a wider spectrum of the counter-tenor voice the present disc is an excellent sample.
Göran Forsling   

Track listing
Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741)
Nisi Dominus, RV608:
1. Cum dederit delectis suis somnum [5:12]
Philippe Jaroussky, Ensemble Matheus/Jean-Christophe Spinosi
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750)
Cantata BWV 175, “Es rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen”:
2. Komm, leite mich [3:32]
Andreas Scholl, Concerto Vocale, Leipzig, Ensemble Baroque de Limoges/Christoph Coin (violoncello piccolo)
Henry PURCELL (1659 - 1695)
3. O solitude, my sweetest choice! Z 406 [6:06]
Gérard Lesne, Il seminario musicale
Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714 - 1787)
Orfeo ed Euridice, act III:
4. Che faró senza Euridice? [3:30]
James Bowman, La grande écurie & la chambre du Roy/Jean-Claude Malgoire
Dixit Dominus:
5. De torrente [2:16]
James Bowman, La grande écurie & la chambre du Roy/Jean-Claude Malgoire
John DOWLAND (1563 - 1626)
6. Can she excuse [3:40]
Gérard Lesne, Ensemble Orlando Gibbons
Johann Sebastian BACH
Cantata BWV 85, “Ich bin ein guter Hirt”:
7. Jesus ist ein guter Hirt [3:20]
Andreas Scholl, Concerto Vocale, Leipzig, Ensemble Baroque de Limoges/Christoph Coin (violoncello piccolo)
Orlando furioso, RV 728, act I:
8. Sol da te, mio dolce amore [7:52]
Philippe Jaroussky, Jean-Marc Goujon (flute), Ensemble Matheus/Jean-Christophe Spinosi
Griselda, RV 718, act II:
9. La rondinella amante [3:46]
Iestyn Davies, Ensemble Matheus/Jean-Christophe Spinosi
Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643 - 1704)
Mors Saülis & Jonathae, H 403:
10. Ecquid ad surdos nunc spargo carmina? [2:18}
Gérard Lesne, Il seminario musicale
George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759)
Giulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17:
11. Va tacito e nascosto [6:39]
James Bowman, La grande écurie & la chambre du Roy/Jean-Claude Malgoire
Orlando 1714, RV 819, act II:
12. Piangerò, sin che l’onda del pianto [3:56]
David DQ Lee, Modo Antiquo/Federico Maria Sardelli
Montezuma, RV 723, act I:
13. Gl’oltraggidella sorte [3:32]
Dominique Visse, La grande écurie & la chambre du Roy/Jean-Claude Malgoire
14. Flow my tears [4:13]
Gérard Lesne, Ensemble Orlando Gibbons
Bonus track:
from “Farinelli, il castrato” (original motion picture soundtrack)
Riccardo BROSCHI (1698 - 1756)
15. Son qual nave ch’agitata [8:20]
Ewa Mallas-Godlewska (soprano), Derek Lee Ragin (counter-tenor), Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset