Xavier Sabata (countertenor)
Vespres d’Arnadí / Dani Espasa (harpsichord)
rec. 2018, Little Tribeca ŕ L'Auditori Axa, Barcelona
Full sung Italian texts with English translations. APARTÉ AP192 [64.30]
My first encounter with the voice of Catalan countertenor Xavier Sabata was with his compelling album ‘Catharsis’ on Aparté (review). Now Sabata has released another late-Baroque collection titled L’Alessandro amante (Alexander the lover). The title is taken from Alessandro amante (Alexander the lover) by Giovanni Antonio Boretti (1640-1672) an opera featuring the Macedonian leader Alexander the Great, premičred in 1668 at Venice. Sadly only Cicognini’s libretto has survived not Boretti’s music.
Director Dani Espasa and Xavier Sabata explain that Alexander the Great is possibly the most popular figure in opera and there are no fewer than sixty-five works just based on Pietro Metastasio’s libretto to Alessandro nell'Indie (Alexander in India). Sabata’s album is a sung portrait of this great historical figure as seen from the individual styles and perspectives of eight different opera composers and their librettists. In his choice of arias Sabata places emphasis on the loving aspects of Alexander, although most but not all the arias are sung by the character Alexander. On the album there are works from nine composers comprising eleven opera/serenade arias all sung in Italian and spanning around fifty-four years, and also six orchestral pieces taken from stage works. The mix of late-Baroque composers is headed by the great master Handel and followed by the well-known Leo, Porpora, Steffani, Bononcini and Vinci through to those who are encountered much less frequently, namely Pescetti, Draghi and Mancini. Represented by two sections from a sinfonia, Steffani is the only composer who doesn’t provide an opera aria.
Throughout Sabata consistently produces his outstanding countertenor voice which has radiance and a bright decisive tone with surprising warmth. My highlight of the collection is the lengthy aria ‘Chiare faci’ from Bononcini’s serenade L’Euleo festeggiante nel ritorno d’Alessandro Magno dall’Indie. Sabata is in stunning form, singing with glorious expression, believably portraying Alexander’s intense yearning to return to his lover after the end of the battle. From the same serenade is the aria ‘Da tuoi lumi’ sung with great appeal, focus and clarity. Sabata affords palpable sensitivity to the meaning of the text and displays impressive breath control. Also outstanding is the Handel aria ‘Vano amore’ from his opera Alessandro, the title role orifinally created by Senesino. Here Sabata provides a determined portrayal of the great hero that absolutely fizzes along, generating often frantic anxiety and bitterness, the soloist responding tremendously to the significant coloratura demands.
This is the fourth album from baroque specialist Vespres d’Arnadí using period instruments; the ensemble is twenty-five strong here. Founded in 2005, the Catalan based orchestra is directed from the harpsichord by Dani Espasa a co-founder with oboist Pere Saragossa who also plays. In some of the arias the basso continuo takes on the improvising dialoguing role. The playing of Vespres d’Arnadí is exemplary, ranging from the fierce resolution to utmost sensitivity. Espasa ensures that the reserves of freshness and vitality don’t come at the expense of control and the overall effect is praiseworthy.
Recorded under studio conditions at Little Tribeca ŕ L'Auditori Axa in Barcelona, the sound quality is first class being closely recorded, vividly clear with presence and excellent balance. The exceptional sound of Espasa’s harpsichord is notable. Xavier Sabata himself has written the impressive essay ‘The double journey of Alexander the Great’ which is full of interesting and helpful information. I’m delighted to report that full sung Italian texts with English translations are also provided in the booklet. Under the title ‘L'Alessando amante, Xavier Sabata, Vespres D’Arnadi’ there is a fascinating five minute promotional video of the album on YouTube.
Not only does the project concentrate on Alexander the Great as regards the aspect of love, it also feels like a labour of love. Baroque lovers can obtain this striking and rewarding album from countertenor Xavier Sabata with confidence. Michael Cookson
Contents Giovanni Battista BONONCINI (1670-1747) Abdolomino (Naples, 1711)
1. Preludio, Presto [1.20] L’Euleo festeggiante nel ritorno d’Alessandro Magno dall’Indie (Vienne, 1699)
2. ‘Da tuoi lumi’ - aria [3.41] Georg Friedrich HANDEL (1685-1759) Poro, re dell’Indie (London, 1731)
3. ‘Se possonotanto due luci vezzose’ aria [5.42] Alessandro (Londres, 1726)
4. ‘Vano amore’ - aria [4.52] Giovanni Battista PESCETTI (1704-1766) Alessandro nelle Indie (Venice, 1732)
5. ‘Serbati a grande imprese’ - aria [8.29] Agostino STEFFANI (1654-1728)
Sinfonia to Il Zelo di Leonato (Hanover, 1691)
6. Lentemente [0.59]
7. Allegro [1.40] Antonio DRAGHI (1634-1700) La Vittoria della fortezza (Vienna, 1687)
8. ‘Č insofferibile temeritŕ’ - arietta [1.48]
9. ‘Premi e pene sono i fiori’ - arietta [2.45] Francesco MANCINI (1672-1737) Alessandro il grande in Sidone (Naples, 1706)
10. ‘Spirti fieri alla vendetta’ - aria [3.18] Giovanni Battista BONONCINI L’Euleo festeggiante nel ritorno d’Alessandro Magno dall’Indie (Vienna, 1699)
11. ‘Chiare faci al di cui lume’ - aria [7.29] Leonardo VINCI (1690-1730) Alessandro nell’Indie (Rome, 1730)
12. ‘Serbati a grandi imprese’ - aria [4.11] Francesco MANCINI
Sinfonia to Alessandro il Grande in Sidone (Naples, 1706)
13. I. Allegrissimo [2.34]
14. II. Larghetto [1.20]
15. III. Allegro [1.40] Leonardo LEO (1694-1744) Alessandro in Persia (Rome, 1741)
16. ‘Dirti, ben mio, vorrei’ - aria [5.08] Nicolo PORPORA (1686-1768) Poro (Turin, 1731)
17. ‘Destrier ch’all’armi usato’ - aria [7.20]
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