Archive for October 17th, 2013|Daily archive page

David Hansen – Il Nuovo Primo Uomo

In Baroque, Classical Music, Opera, Review on October 17, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Review – Rivals – Arias for Farinelli & Co

David Hansen (Countertenor)
Academia Montis Regalis
Alessandro De Marchi (Conductor)

It seems that recital discs by countertenors are like buses. You wait for ages and then three come along at once. As well as this excellent recital disc by David Hansen, there have recently been recitals discs from Franco Fagioli and Philippe Jaroussky.

I have to admit that David Hansen is a new name to me. But I am very glad to have made his acquaintance for he possesses a gleaming voice, bell-like and bright throughout its range – which is in itself incredibly wide, stratospheric almost – coupled the ability to deliver the rapid divisions and ornamentation in the vocal line with pinpoint accuracy. While there is a bite to Hansen’s voice that makes it very attractive, when required he can spin the most delicate legato line and he demonstrates the ability to modulate both the colour and timbre of his singing to great effect.

The original castrati who inspired the music on this disc not only include Farinelli and his ‘rival’ Caffarelli but also Scalzi, Bernacchi and Carestini. These and others created some of the greatest roles and music in Baroque and early classical opera and Hansen performs each and every aria with consummate musicianship.

The opening aria In braccio a mille furie from Vinci’s Semiramide riconosciuta was originally written for a castrato by the name of Carlo Scalzi, whom Metastasio rated and compared to Farinelli himself. The aria bears all the fingerprints of a showstopper for any castrato – exploiting the widest vocal range coupled with florid coloratura and Hansen sails through it with great bravura. With his bell-like tone and excellent diction he glides through the music and his ornamentation in the returning da capo is – as it is throughout the recital – tastefully stylistic.

Anyone who saw the film Farinelli directed by Corbiau will remember the moment when the castrato bests Handel with his sustained singing of Ombra mai fu. This moment was brought back to me with Hansen’s performance of the second aria Sento due fiamma in petto from Vinci’s Il Medo, written specially for Farinelli. The delicate and beautifully played oboe obbligato by Per Luigi Fabrietti weaves its magic before Hansen’s opening sustained note, beautifully controlled and coloured with vibrato before continuing to deliver the vocal line with incredible technical and breath control. The result is some of the most incredibly heartfelt and sustained singing of the disc. And throughout both soloists display and innate sensitivity to each other’s melodic line especially in the manner that they intertwine in the returning da capo.

As you would expect on this disc, all the arias were custom-written to display the skills and technique of each castrato to the fullest, whether in their florid coloratura, wide leaps or the elegant sustained vocal lines of e slower arias. The majority of arias are drawn from works by Vinci and it’s interesting to note that with Taci o di morte – also from Il Medo – the composer writes an aria in almost exactly the same mold as Sento due fiamma except the composer replaces the oboe with a violin obbligato. Clearly Vinci knew how to please both singer and audience.

The most interesting aria on the disc has to be Son qual nave by Farinelli’s own brother, Riccardo Broschi. Written very specifically as the castrato’s vocal calling card it’s a shame that the composer’s own talent was not as great as that of his brother. That’s not to say it isn’t a charming aria but it does rather resemble a shopping list of technical elements rather than a heartfelt and inspired creation. But Hansen delivers it with musical aplomb.

Leo’s Freme orgoglioso a l’onda with its unusual sonorous oboe writing is similarly a case in point. With its wide leaps and coloratura alternating with a notably restrained middle section it would clearly have brought the house down.

Risveglia lo sdegno from Vinci’s Alessandro closes the disc in suitably show-stopping style, compete with trumpets, dramatic pauses and roulades of coloratura.

And yet for me the gem of the disc is Bonocini’s In te sposa, Griselda … Cara sposa. The delicate scoring with its violin obbligati underpinning the vocal line and its touching use of imitative entry, suspensions – the basic weapons of the period’s Doctrine of Affections but skilfully applied here – raises this aria above the rest. And above the ensemble Hansen spins out the vocal line with both great dexterity and sincerity. The way he sustains the closing note of the middle section of the aria is breathtaking for example.

Throughout the recital Hansen is ably supported by the Academia Montis Regalis directed Alessandro De Marchi. Their playing is crystalline and precise but there were times when I wonted for a bit more orchestral weight and colour. The accompanying CD booklet is informative and well written but I did sigh upon spying the topless shot of Hansen. There’s no denying it is ‘easy on the eye’ but I don’t quite get it’s relevance except obliquely to the “sex-symbol’ reference in the note. As I’ve said before, marketeers have a lot to answer for.

But overall this is a recital disc to cherish. Hansen not only displays awe-inspiring technique but also a sensitivity and level of musicianship that is incredible.

I hope that we get to hear Hansen in the UK sometime very soon.


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