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Sacred Duets
Nuria Rial (soprano)
Valer Sabadus (countertenor)
Julia Schr÷der (violin)
Simon LinnÚ (theorbo)
Hristo Kouzmanov (cello)
Kammerorchester Basel
rec. 18-21 March 2016, Landgasthof Riehen, Riehen, Switzerland
SONY 88985323612 [60:24]

Sacred Duets is an unusual album for the simple reason that the repertoire is one that is rarely recorded if at all. I am talking about the duets. How often have we found a recording that contains duets from sacred works by Caldara, Porpora, Colonna or Scarlatti? I can’t remember any in recent years or even from a long time ago. The arias have appeared perhaps more often but this is not a repertoire that is often taken as the topic for a CD.

So when I received it for review I was really looking forward to listening to it for the very first time, expecting to be delighted; even thrilled. I’m therefore sad to say that it left me a little indifferent. It is not a bad work, on the contrary it is a good, solid recital but there is no excitement. To my mind also no passion and after listening to it once I easily forgot about it and didn’t feel the need of playing it again. Valer Sabadus is not one of my favourite countertenors. His voice sounds slightly nasal, the tone isn’t pure or beautiful and his diction is occasionally unclear. He appears to struggle a little on the high notes – at times they sound strident, others almost distorted and the strain and effort is often noticeable. However, I must say that in the duets with Nuria Rial he does an outstanding job. His voice actually harmonises with Rial’s light, crystalline soprano extremely well. The duets are charming especially Nicola Porpora’s Lascia ch'io veda almeno from Il verbo in carne and Antonio Lotti’s Sempre fido, sempre grato from L'umiltÓ coronata in Esther but they are all excellently performed and enjoyable to listen to. Alessandro Scarlatti’s Al serto le rose from San Casimiro, re di Polonia is another delightful little gem and Giovanni Colonna’s Partite dolori from Salomone amante is simply splendid. It is rewarding and refreshing to have a CD of sacred duets for a change rather than the usual solo sacred pieces that tenors, sopranos and mezzos tend to produce at different stages of their careers. It therefore pains me to say that in my opinion some of the arias do not live up to the same high standards delivered by the duets.

As I mentioned above, Sabadus is not one of my favourite countertenors, which is I suppose a matter of taste. When I think countertenors I tend to remember the understated beauty of Andreas Scholl’s singing, the fireworks of a David Daniels or the youthful, fresh sound of a Philippe Jaroussky. Nothing against Sabadus. He is an excellent performer, who dedicates himself to the piece, executes all his arias exceptionally well and with some technical brilliance. I just don’t appreciate his tone and so his solo arias in this CD left me neither here nor there or in other words completely failed to engage me. This is of course a very personal view of Mr Sabadus’s singing voice. I am certain that there are many people out there who enjoy listening to him and find his voice beautiful. On the other hand, soprano Nuria Rial was a pleasant surprise to me. I had never really heard her before although I had read about her. She has a rather lovely, crystalline tone, her voice sounds pure, delicate almost angelic at times. Her performance is delightful in all her arias. I particularly enjoyed her in Bernardo Pasquini’s Vaga Rosa and Giovanni Colonna’s Su l’arco d’amore. She shapes her lines beautifully, phrases with elegance and her voice has a certain pristine quality that sounds both light and lovely. A real treat. I can only hope that we will have much more by Ms Rial in a not so distant future.

The CD booklet, in German and English, contains a very interesting, informative essay entitled Innovation and Tradition in the Italian Oratorio 1670-1740 plus the lyrics in the original Italian with English and German translations. The whole package is actually quite appealing, designed in an antique but elegant and subtle style that suits the musical pieces very well.

In all I think this is a CD worth having for the unusual repertoire, which in my opinion needs to be divulged. It is engaging, appealing and at times rather pretty. This recital is also worth buying for the outstanding beauty and quality of the duets’ performances and the attractive combination of Rial’s and Sabadus’s voices. The arias are possibly more a matter of whether one enjoys the voices on their own or not but they are never unpleasant. To me it often lacks drama, emotion, passion but then again these are sacred works and both singers favoured a slightly dull, hushed approach rather than an eloquent, bombastic or more florid singing. Again it is a matter of taste.

Overall I found the CD subdued, almost boring at times, however the duets more than compensate for the duller moments of some of the arias. Another highlight, which makes this recording well worth listening to, is the excellent, understated but captivating performance of the Kammerorchester Basel that get their opportunity to show off with Giuseppe Torelli’s Violin Concerto in C Minor, featuring violinist Julia Schr÷der who gives a remarkably satisfying performance.

Margarida Mota-Bull
(Margarida writes more than just reviews, check it online at

Alessandro Scarlatti
San Casimiro, re di Polonia - Al serto le rose (Duetto) [2:58]
Bernardo Pasquini
Sant'Agnese - Vaga rosa (Aria) [3:34]
Giovanni Paolo Colonna
Salomone amante - Partite dolori (Duetto) [2:53], Su l'arco d'amore (Aria) [4:13]
Domenico Gabrielli
San Sigismondo, re di Borgogna - Aure voi de' miei sospiri (Aria) [5:49]
Giovanni Battista Bononcini
La conversione di Maddalena - Cor imbelle a due nemici (Aria) [3:29]
Giuseppe Torelli
Violin Concerto in C Minor, Op. 8, No. 8 - I Vivace [3:34], II Adagio [0:29],
III Allegro [2:09]
Antonio Lotti
L'umiltÓ coronata in Esther - Sempre fido, sempre grato (Duetto) [3:44]
Antonio Caldara
La frode della castitÓ - Si pensi alla vendetta (Aria) [2:59]
Santa Francesca romana - ╚ ristoro a un cor che pena (Duetto) [4:35]
Nicola Antonio Porpora
Il verbo in carne - Lascia ch'io veda almeno (Duetto) [6:38]
Il Gedeone - Quasi locuste che intorno (Aria) [3:59]
Il martirio di San Giovanni Nepomuceno - Della fragile mia vita (Duetto) [9:21]



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