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Arie Napolitane
Max Emanuel Cencic (counter-tenor)
Il Pomo d'Oro/Maxim Emelyanychev (conductor and harpsichord soloist)
rec. 7-14 February 2015, Villa San Fermo, Lonigo, Italy
DECCA 478 8422 [75.31]

Counter-tenor Max Emanuel Cencic first came to my attention with his captivating 2010 Lugano Virgin Classics recording Handel - Mezzo-Soprano Opera Arias. For this Decca album titled Arie Napolitane Cencic was inspired by the recordings of the Naples-born Enrico Caruso to explore the musical legacy of Neapolitan Baroque composers. Cencic describes how at the start of the 16th century Naples with its four music conservatoires was a melting pot of musical culture. Around 1720 the city was one of the largest in Europe behind London and Paris. Featuring the music of six composers who were either born or worked in Naples this disc contains eleven castrato arias, plus a harpsichord concerto; all but two of the works are described as world première recordings. The music was written for the castrati of the day such as Senesino, Annibali, Carestini, Caffarelli and Farinelli. This is clearly a treasure trove of forgotten opera arias. Amazed by the sheer wealth of 18th century Neapolitan music Cencic, in a promotional YouTube clip, joked that he had discovered enough material for over ten CDs, never mind one.

Croatian Cencic performs these Neapolitan Late-Baroque arias with an accomplishment that seems near effortless. Blurring the traditional gender stereotype his androgynous tone adds invigorating and adventurous elements to these focused and impeccably controlled performances - so full of life. There is a striking purity to the counter-tenor’s dusky timbre together with a steadfast technique. A little more emphasis on the meaning of the text would be the icing on the cake for Cencic. The quality of each aria is consistently high and I have selected several highlights. Praiseworthy is Porpora’s quick and exciting Quel vasto, quel fiero from Polifemo. Cencic in decisive form as the heroic Ulysses demonstrates his aptitude for the technical challenges. In the title role the tender and affecting love song Dal suo gentil sembiante from Leo’s Demetrio is an excellent example of Cencic’s lovely smooth line with some modest ornamentation and a gloriously fluid glide to his high registers. Lasting almost 9 minutes this is the longest aria on the release. By contrast from Vinci’s Eraclea the rapid aria In questa mia tempesta is loaded with splendidly executed embellishments reflecting Decius’ anxiety at being caught in a storm at sea. Quite breathtakingly performed is Non fidi al mar che freme from Leo’s Scipione nelle Spagne - such a buoyant aria with considerable coloratura demands, full of heroic swaggering and virility.

Founded in 2012 Il Pomo d'Oro (The Golden Apple) is a period instrument ensemble, which focuses mainly on opera. It is named after the 1666 opera of the same name by Antonio Cesti. A specialist in historic keyboard instruments the Russian Maxim Emelyanychev directing from the harpsichord ensures the accompaniment from Il Pomo d'Oro is spirited, colourful and stylish. An abundance of expressive feeling is conveyed. The sound of the period instruments is remarkably attractive providing a wide range of colour which is detailed with crisply sprung rhythms. While reasonably appealing Auletta’s Concerto in D major for harpsichord, two violins and continuo is unmemorable, nevertheless Emelyanychev’s elegant playing is completely sympathetic conveying a lovely buoyancy in the Allegros. On balance as an alternative to the concerto I would have preferred two or three additional arias from Cencic.

Decca is to be congratulated for providing the essential Italian texts complete with translations in English, French and German. There's also an informative essay by musicologist Roberto Scoccimarro. Some background information about the obtaining of these previously unrecorded works would have been helpful. There's a vivid presence to the sonics of this satisfyingly balanced and admirably presented recording.

Lovers of Late-Baroque opera and the counter-tenor voice will be in their element. Those new to this repertoire need not hesitate. Max Emanuel Cencic is in magnificent form with these high quality, yet inexplicably forgotten, arias.

Michael Cookson
Track listing
Nicola PORPORA (1686-1768)
1. Quel vasto, quel fiero - Polifemo (1735) [3.21]
Leonardo LEO (1694-1744)
2. Dal suo gentil sembiante - Demetrio (1735) [8.56]
Leonardo VINCI (c. 1690-1730)
3. In questa mia tempesta - Eraclea (1724) [4.20]
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
4. Miei pensieri - Il Prigioniero Fortunato (1689) [5.00]
5. Tutto appoggio il mio disegno - Il Cambise (1719) [3.07]
Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
6. L'infelice in questo stato - L'Olimpiade (1735) [6.51]
Leonardo LEO (1694-1744)
7. Non fidi al mar che freme - Scipione nelle Spagne (1740) [4.18]
8. No, non vedrete mai - Siface (1737) [8.20]
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
9. Care pupille belle - Il Tigrane (1715) [5.11]
Nicola PORPORA (1686-1768)
10. Qual turbine che scende- Germanico in Germania (1732) [6.57]
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
11. Vago mio sole - Massimo Puppieno (1695) [3.19]
Domenico AULETTA (1723-1773)
12-14. Concerto in D major for harpsichord, two violins and continuo [15.32]



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