Review – Max Emanuel Cencic (Wigmore Hall, Thursday 29 September 2016)
Max Emanuel Cencic (Countertenor)
Max Emmanuel Cencic repeated the same successes and failures of his last recital at Wigmore Hall two years ago. Whereas in 2014 he focused on Venice, on this occasion Naples was the epicentre. Composers included Porpora – every countertenor’s repertoire staple – as well as Sarro, Leo, Vinci and Scarlatti pere.
With the cohorts of countertenors on stage today, Cencic stands apart in terms of the smokiness of his vocal timbre. It’s coupled with an expansive range – although what has crept in is a tendency to over emphasise the highest notes – and an impressive fluidity in terms of delivering coloratura and the limpid vocal lines so associated with composers of this period. The way Cencic can shape an expansive vocal line is enviable.
However, unlike colleagues such as Iestyn Davies, Andreas Scholl and David Hansen, Cencic and others are challenged in terms of clearly annunciating the text. Whole words were lost. Clearly a case of prima la musica poi la parole. Metastasio and Zeno would be furious.
And this was further exacerbated by what could perhaps be called a Cencic-ism. As in 2014, throughout the recital, the performer rarely if ever raised his eyes from the score in front of him, and because of this, there were times when the arias felt more akin to vocal exercises. Even in the slower numbers, Cencic was glued to the score.
One has to wonder if Cencic can perform on stages sans score, why he needs to rely on it as a recital prop so intensely? I’m not asking that music be memorised – although Emelyanchev was able to surrender his score to Cencic for the encore with no difficulties whatsoever. No, but in a recital, the connection between audience and performer is paramount. It’s intrinsic to the experience. If the singer remains buried in the music, the emotional connection – the ability of the singer to effectively convey the words and to involve the listener in the moment – is lost.
The bravura moments written by these composers – let alone the moments of more lyrical expressiveness – were not merely to display the singers vocal prowess and vigour but also to underline the text and emotion at a time when dramaturgy was all but non-existent. Part of communicating this directly to the audience was by a physicality of expression and gesture.
That stage presence was virtually missing with Cencic. Except for a few moments in Alessandro Scarlatti’s Miei pensieri and No, non vedete mai from Leo’s Siface.
That’s not to say that musically this was a thrilling evening, technically. The fastest arias were despatched with a brilliance of technique that was dazzling. Most impressive was Qual turbine che scende from Porpora’s Germanico in Germania, and the encore Si, di ferri mi cingete. Surprisingly this was the only aria from Hasse – his opera Irene.
Il Pomo d’Oro provided sonorous and energetic support to Cencic and shone in the individual instrumental pieces. Auletta’s harpsichord concerto was a pleasant enough divertissement, but it was Hasse’s Fuga e Grave that particularly stood out for it intensity.
There’s no denying that hearing Cencic is exciting, but had he looked up for the score then seeing him perform would have altogether made this a more thrilling and emotionally satisfying evening.
Look up, sir. Look up.