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Track listing below review
Blandine Staskiewicz (mezzo)
Les Ambassadeurs/Alexis Kossenko
rec. Temple St Marcel, Paris, 7-11 September 2014. DDD
Texts and translations included
GLOSSA GCD923503 [64:38]

Reviewed as lossless download from (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless) and streamed from Qobuz. (Both with pdf booklet).

Blandine Staskiewicz has featured in several recent Glossa and Nave recordings but this appears to be her first recital album. I thought her Galatea marginally less impressive than the other two soloists in Handel’s Aci, Galatea e Polifemo (GCD921515 – DL News 2013/14) but Christopher Howell and Michael Cookson liked the recording of Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso in which she sang Medoro and I enjoyed the new recording.

There have been many very fine recent releases of Handel and Vivaldi recitals, but few of them have featured a mezzo, let alone one of this quality. For a performance of Pensieri, voi mi tormentate of this quality, for example, we have to go back to Magdalena Kožen and Andrea Marcon in 2007 (DG 4776547: Recording of the Month – review) and for Vivaldi’s Siam navi all’onde to Patricia Petitbon, again with Andrea Marcon, in 2010 (DG 4778763: Recording of the Month – review). For a mezzo performance of the Vivaldi of this quality we need to go back to Cecilia Bartoli in 1999 (The Vivaldi Album, Decca 4665692 or 4783388).

Most of the music is as tempestuous as the title indicates, with Ombra mai f not only the best-known item here but the still point at the eye of the storm. (Track 8 of 13). There must be more recordings of this aria than you could count, from counter-tenors and mezzos. Cecilia Bartoli opened her Sospiri album with a heartfelt performance of it that’s hard to beat (Decca 4782558). Blandine Staskiewicz doesn’t try to dig quite so deep but she doesn’t fall far short and her performance gains from being prefaced by the preceding recit. On the rest of the album Staskiewicz’s powerful voice is as striking as her picture on the CD cover.

There may be plenty of competition for Ombra mai fu, but for some of the other items there’s little competition. The opening Spesso di nubi cinto, for example, has only one rival that I can find in the current UK catalogue: a new CD of Porpora arias sung by Franco Fagioli (Nave V5639). Preference will depend on having just the one Porpora aria in a collection of Handel and Vivaldi or a whole album of Porpora, or on Staskiewicz’s mezzo against the quite different sound of Fagioli’s counter-tenor.

My own preference if you twist my arm would be for Staskiewicz’s slightly faster and less strained performance, though the actual difference is less than the timings would suggest (6:44 against 7:50). Though I enjoyed the Fagioli album as a whole, I agree with Jonathan Woolf – review – who thought some of the singing inSpesso di nubi cinto in questionable taste. See also review by Glyn Pursglove. Staskiewicz sounds just as stormy without resorting to so many vocal tricks.

Alice Coote with the English Consort and Harry Bicket offers formidable competition in Quando mai on an all-Handel programme and hers is a more varied selection (Hyperion CDA67979). Ralph Moore found too many shortcomings in the Hyperion recital and, though I enjoyed it, I wasn’t quite bowled over – DL News 2014/12. Hearing Coote and Staskiewicz head to head in this aria I definitely opt for the new recording.

I haven’t been able to listen to the one current rival recording of Sovvente il sole, by Anne Sofie von Otter, rather oddly included on an album of violin works entitled Daniel Hope plays Vivaldi, but I doubt that even she makes a better job of it than Staskiewicz.

In Agitata da due venti she’s up against the finest baroque singer of our generation, Emma Kirkby. She’s not put to shame in the comparison but I do want to emphasise that the Hyperion Helios album of Vivaldi Arias should be an essential part of any library. It’s at super-budget price and there’s only the one overlap with the new Glossa CD (CDH55279 – review and DL Roundup). Both show the inadequacies of Naxos’s complete recording of Griselda (8.660211-3 – review).

The support given by Les Ambassadeurs and Alexis Kossenko is all that could be wished and the recording is good.

As well as an explanation from Staskiewicz of how the concept of this album arose, the booklet contains a useful analysis of the music by Stefano Russomanno. Full texts and tri-lingual translations are included, the English sometimes a paraphrase rather than a literal rendering.

Blandine Staskiewicz may not come out as quite my top choice in some of the comparisons that I have made, but she often is and she’s never far behind in the others. If this unique programme of Handel and Vivaldi arias, with a couple of pieces by Porpora and Pergolesi thrown in, appeals I see no reason not to go for it.

Brian Wilson

Track listing

Nicola PORPORA (1686-1768)
Spesso di nubi cinto (Carlo il Calvo) [6:44]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Sovvente il sole (Andromeda liberata) [9:20]
Io son fra l’onde (La verit in cimento) [4:03]
Agitata da due venti (Griselda) [5:46]
Ouverture (L’Olimpiade) [4:33]
Siam navi all’onde algenti (L’Olimpiade) [6:33]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Ouverture (Agrippina) [3:27]
Pensieri, voi mi tormentate (Agrippina) [4:35]
Quando mai spietata sorte (Radamisto) [2:42]
Brilla nell’alma (Alessandro) [5:57]
Ombra mai f (Serse) [3:56]
Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
Torbido in volto (Adriano in Siria) [6:57]

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