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My Bach Pilgrimage – Best Foot Forward

In Bach Pilgrimage, Baroque, Classical Music, JS Bach on March 30, 2014 at 10:12 am

(The Monteverdi Choir, The English Baroque Soloists, John Elliot Gardiner)

Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir (BWV 131)
Gottes Zeit is die allerbester Zeit (BWV 106)
Der Herr denket an uns (BWV 196)

Sunday seems to be the best day for my Bach Pilgrimage and so my aural journey starts chronologically with the first three cantatas he wrote in 1707.

Written in Mühlhausen, Bach was just twenty-two.

As I said before, his pilgrimage won’t be an an aria-by-aria, chorale-by chorale, chorus-by-chorus account. But rather observations with the occasional highlight.

Indeed, listening to these three cantatas it feels that Bach reached his musical majority in terms of style very quickly. But having done so, his musical language didn’t stagnate but rather became ever more distilled and in terms of his religious music, spiritual.

It’s not clear why Bach wrote BWV 131, Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir (Out of the Depths, Lord, I called to You) but from the opening chorus there is that Bach-ness to it that clearly says that this could be by no one else. I wonder what those listening to it must have thought. Of course they may have been acquainted with the choral works of the likes of Buxtehude, but the instrumental colour created by the oboe obbligato, the unexpected modulations, the expressive counterpoint have made them sit up and listen more intently.

This cantata is continuous – through-composed – although there is a real sense of modernity in the use of concertante voices in the slow-fast opening chorus and in the second arioso, not only with it’s continuing oboe obbligato but the chorale verse in the chorus. And the opening of the middle chorus – Ich harre des Herrn – reminds me of nothing more than the Gabrieli brothers of Venice but also – weirdly – of the opening of Bach’s own b minor mass.

But impressive as the choruses are, it’s the tenor aria with its lilting cello obbligato and once again its choral cantus firmus that is this cantata’s gem.

Gottes Zeit is die allerbester Zeit (BWV 106) is perhaps the best known of this early triptych and rightly the most impressive. Perhaps written for the death of his uncle, this Actus Tragicus has a real sense of theatre – as well as being theatrical – that doesn’t re-emerge until his Passions. From the start, there is a simplicity that is genius. The rich yet economical scoring of soli viola di gambas and recorders, the gently pulsing melodic line again reminds me of a later cantata – the incredibly beautiful Trauerode – in terms of the melancholic – yet at the same time profoundly joyous – mood immediately created.

In Bach’s cantatas the strength of his own religious feeling, the certainty of a life after death is ever-present and no more so than here. The chorus that follows might seem almost too jaunty for a funeral but Bach is simply confirming his own faith – death is in God’s hands and should be welcomed. The three soloists play out the drama and it seems Bach couldn’t resist one theatrical flourish – in the chorus Es ist der alte Bund with the first appearance of that famous diminished seventh drop in the melodic line that would become a hallmark in Bach and beyond. Not only is there something almost sensuous about the soprano solo but the way the movement simply fades away with her final flourish must have raised more than a few eyebrows. And indeed the same could be same of the final chorus with its off-beat emphasis and final florid fugue.

From the end of life to the beginning with Der Herr denket an uns, BWV 196 (and here performed by The Purcell Quartet with soloists including the ever refined Ms Emma Kirky and Michael Chance). Perhaps written for a wedding within Bach’s own famly it follows a similar structure to BWV 106 with an opening sinfonia although the subsequently fugal chorus is of a more joyous nature although listen out for the deliberate ‘musical aside’ at und signet uns. But if there is one movement that stands out it is the duet for tenor and bass – Der Herr Segne Euch Je Mehr Und Mehr – with its concertante ripieni for the strings before Bach ends with a fittingly joyous and bustling chorus.

A Woman of Little Substance

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Strauss on March 20, 2014 at 9:17 am

Review – Die Frau ohne Schatten (Covent Garden, Monday 17March 2017)

Die Kaiser/The Emperor – Johan Botha
Die Kaiserin/The Empress – Emily McGee
Die Amme/The Nurse – Michaela Schuster
Barak The Dyer– Johan Reuter
Sein Weib/Barak’s Wife – Elena Pankratova

Director – Claus Guth
Designs – Christian Schmidt
Lighting Design – Olaf Winter
Video Designs – Andi A. Müller
Dramaturg – Ronny Dietrich

Royal Opera Chorus
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Semyon Bychkov (Conductor)

For the first time in many years I suffered what should be a recognised medical complaint during a performance of Die Frau ohne Schatten at Covent Garden.

Premature Expectation.

That is the only reason that I can think of why I did share the overall sense of enthusiasm and pleasure that the majority of people experienced with the Royal Opera House’s co-production with La Scala.

FroSch has quickly become one of my favourite operas by Richard Strauss, supplanting even Der Rosenkavalier in my affections. But on this evening it failed to have the same effect on me as it did either live in Vienna or by telecast from Munich.

Perhaps I had expected too much from this production that has elicited such an enthusiastic response from both audience and critics both in London and Milan. But once the curtain had descended I walked down Bow Street with an overriding sense of disappointment rather than the more common feeling of overwhelming wonder and elation at this incredible opera.

Strauss himself dubbed this the ‘last romantic opera’, and it contains some of his most beautiful music and soaring melodies. I don’t deny there were moments of beauty when the majesty of Strauss’ incredible score shone out.

But it wasn’t a consistent evening.

However laurels should crown the heads of Johann Botha and Elena Pankratova as the Emperor and Barak’s Wife respectively as well as Ms Schuster as Die Amme.

Does Johann Botha possess one of the few truly heldentenor voices on the stage today? Its bright, clean sound rises effortlessly above even the densest of Strauss’ orchestration, with Botha’s keen musical intelligence shaping the vocal line with both incredible grace and eloquence. He many not be the strongest actor but he makes his presence felt and I for one wished during this performance that Strauss had given him more to sing.

Ms Pankratova repeated her steely performance from Munich, finding the right balance between shrewish life and a woman desperate to be loved by (any) man. I won’t forget in a hurry her rich and warm soprano, especially at the opening of the Third Act and any weaknesses in her characterisation lay with Guth’s direction for this character.

The Amme of Michaela Schuster was more than equal to the demanding music that Strauss composed for this character. Vocally secure – and more often than not magnificent – even in the most taxing of passages, she rose above the challenge of the music to also delivered the most rounded and believable character to the very end. Her final glace to the audience spoke volumes of this Nurse’s malevolence which left – hopefully intentional in Guth’s confused vision – a final question mark over what the opera was all about.

I last saw Emily McGee in Munich when she replaced an ill-disposed Elsa. She is a soprano that possesses a vibrant soprano based on a foundation of both strong technique and musical insight. However I did wonder if the role of the Empress is slightly beyond her at this time? This role was originally created for Maria Jertiza and while Ms McGee produces a honeyed tone in her middle register, either end of her vocal range sounded less robust and at the top definitely pinched. Her first scene sounded more challenging vocally than it should have and it wasn’t until the final act that I heard the kind of voice that is required for this role.

The same can be said of the vocally resplendent Johann Reuter. While he displayed his usual confident and firm delivery, I felt not only that his Barak lacked a sense of finer nuance and colour but also more importantly, at times the Dyer was too inward looking in term of his performance.

The remaining members of the cast delivered their roles well if not exceptionally. The three brothers barrelled through their roles both in terms of their singing and acting and of the remaining cast it was a shame that the singing of the Night Watchmen – Michel de Souza, Jihoon Kim and Adrian Clarke – was obscured by, from where I was sitting, them singing from the back of the auditorium.

I can’t say that the Orchestra of the Royal Opera have that instinctive ‘feel’ for Strauss’ music as some of their German counterparts but Symon Bychkov drew some of the richest and warmest playing from the Orchestra of the Royal Opera that I have heard in quite a while. Perhaps they were inspired by Bernard Haitink’s attendance as Bychkov produced a level of transparency and coaxed a range of dynamics and colour from the players that was one of the highlights of the evening. My one reservation, as it has been with other performances of FroSch, is that I wish conductors would give the music more time to breathe. Again that magical cello moment in the Second Act felt rushed rather than revelled in which meant that when it returns – in a more frantic guise – in the Emperor’s scene that follows, the emotional impact is lost.

FroSch will never be an easy opera to direct. Its mixture of fairytale and morality shot through with the contemporary obsession with psychoanalysis makes it an almost impossible story to tell. Like Carsen’s production in Vienna, clearly Guth took as his starting point the idea of dreams and their interpretation. Unlike Carsen, his sense of narrative became confused with almost overburdened and incessant symbolism that undermined any sense of real character development.

Was it a dream? Was it a hallucination?

But it wasn’t so much too hard to tell what Guth was trying to say than Guth not clearly knowing himself. Whereas Vienna, Munich, Copenhagen and even Kent’s production for the Mariinsky provided a clearer narrative framework with success to a greater or lesser degree, Guth provided a single set. The monotony of the sanatorium-cum-bedroom set was relieved only by a rotating back wall offering more often than not less than sophisticated imagery and a conveyor belt which seemed more about getting props on and off set quickly that adding any depth to the storytelling. And in an age of animation of the likes of the recent Don Giovanni, Müller’s video designs had an infantile but-not-in-an-intentional-way feel to them.

Having the Empress mirror or mimic the Dyer’s Wife to portray both the duality of their personalities as well as the opposing forces that they represented was never truly defined beyond the basic. Its sense of pantomime never developed into a more effective and powerful counterpoint between the two characters and those around them. Personally I fancied that the Nurse – in some kind of fantasy-stoke-psychoanalytical way – was some kind of succubus but I don’t agree with Guth’s premise that the Nurse “strives” for evil but only does good.

And while the use of dancers as gazelles and the Falcon was inspired at the beginning – as was Barak preparing a skin of a white gazelle – it quickly paled as a device. Their constant appearance symbolised not so much the characters and their alter egos than Guth’s lack of inspiration. Similarly Keikobad’s ‘death’ at the end seemed superfluous and gestural rather than dictated by any narrative and the dilettante playboy was unbelievable not because he wasn’t either naked or semi-clothed as in other productions, but because he looked like he had stepped straight from a Noel Coward play, devoid of any sexuality or allure.

Finding a convincing ending for this opera is of course the real challenge. I have yet to see a truly convincing denouement but this one left me completely non-plussed. Revealing all the characters sitting as members of a wedding party complete with judge had no connection with the drama that had just unfolded on the stage. Nor did the subsequent tableau of the children, surrounding the protagonists and looking to all intent and purpose as if they were either about to embark to Salzburg to sing Doe-A-Deer or re-enact that famous scene from Titanic.

As I mentioned the closing moments with the Empress at the window and the Nurse looking back at the audience might have left us with a visually arresting final image, but its effect was – I think – more luck than calculated storytelling from the director.

And ultimately a production that fails to tell the story clearly or at least intelligently, distracts from the overall impact.

Sadly for me then, this production promised both before and from the start so much to look forward to. Perhaps my expectation was raised too high before and dashed as quickly.

But I have heard it said that it sounded ravishing from other parts of Covent Garden. Perhaps I should go back one last time.

But close my eyes.

JS Bach – A Personal Pilgrimage

In Bach Pilgrimage, Baroque, JS Bach on March 15, 2014 at 10:20 am

A series of happy coincidences has prompted me to undertake what amounts to a personal pilgrimage.

The first was the fiftieth anniversary of the Monteverdi Chorus. As with many other people, this magnificent ensemble – together with the English Baroque Soloists – has played a seminal role in my own musical life. Their numerous recordings from Bach to Brahms, and their live performances have been a constant in my life but just as importantly so has their passion and enthusiasm for classical music. They were – if I am not mistaken – one of the first ensembles to cock a finger at the major recording labels and set out on their own. And where they have gone, others are starting to follow, determined not to be diminished by the selfishness of labels and there obsession with mediocrity and the bottom line.

Secondly – but related – was the recent release of their Easter Oratorio and Actus Tragicus. Suffice it to say at this stage – as the Actus Tragicus will indeed be one of the first cantatas to feature in my pilgrimage – that these are joyous recordings.

And third is that this is my 150th blog entry and one of my earliest blog entries was all about the majesty Bach’s cantatas. In both school and college I have both sung and played various of his cantatas and oratorios. Repeated listening hasn’t dampened by enthusiasm or sense of awe for any of them and it always amazes me that about two fifth are still missing.

Therefore I am, for however long it takes, going to embark on my own Bach pilgrimage. I will listen to every cantata as recorded by this eminent ensemble but of course there will be occasions when I will listen to performances outside of Gardiner’s epic oeuvre.

Originally I thought of listening to the cantatas in their respective cycles. But upon further consideration I have decided to listen to them in chronological order. Clearly listening to the cantatas in their cycles would provide a sense of narrative – religious and spiritual – but by listening to them chronologically I believe that while I won’t necessarily lose the ‘spiritual’ impact created by Bach’s genius, I will also experience the development of Bach’s musical genius as well.

Similarly this won’t be an aria-by-aria, chorale-by chorale, chorus-by-chorus account. That would be impossible. Instead my entries will be determined by the whimsical, emotional impact of my listening.

So to begin, his earliest cantatas written in 1707.

Tattoo’ll Do Quite Nicely

In Classical Music, Handel, Opera, Review on March 5, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Review – Rodelinda (English National Opera, Sunday 2 March 2014)

Bertarido – Iestyn Davies
Rodelinda – Rebecca Evans
Grimoaldo – John Mark Ainsley
Eduige – Susan Bickley
Garibaldo – Richard Burkhard
Unulfo – Christopher Ainslie
Flavio – Matt Casey (Actor)

Director – Richard Curtis
Set Designer – Jeremy Herbert
Costume Designer – Nicky Gillibrand
Lighting Designer – Mimi Jordan Sherrin
Video Design – Steven Williams

Members of English National Opera Orchestra

Christian Curnyn (Conductor)

I think that English National Opera has a way to go before it can claim back it’s self-professed title of being the ‘House of Handel’. But Richard Jones’ production of Rodelinda has salvaged the indignity that Giulio Cesare suffered at the hands of Michael Keegan-Dolan.

However it has to be said that musically speaking, Christian Curnyn has pulled together an excellent cast for this production and displayed once again his innate sense of style and verve in terms of his interpretation of one Handel’s’ greatest operas.

Leading the cast was the excellent Iestyn Davies as Bertarido. I don’t think that I have ever heard Dove Sei? sang with such authority, musical intelligence or emotional eloquence. Pure of tone and displaying incredible vocal technique and control, he delivered one of the vocal highlights of the evening. Indeed Davies is a naturally innate Handelian in terms of performance style and coupled to his portrayal of Bertarido made his the strongest performance of the evening. His confident and flawless delivery of Vivi, tiranno provided the perfect book-end to his opening aria.

Similarly Rebecca Evans’ Rodelinda was a tour de force. Written for Francesca Cuzzoni for whom Handel also wrote Cleopatra and Lisaura (Alessandro) this is a formidable role with some incredibly challenging music right from the start. Ms Evans carried off the role with both vocal aplomb and again an innate sense of Handelian style. From the incredibly exposed Ho perduto il caro sposo and Ombre, piante, urne funeste through such coloratura-ladened arias as L’empio rigor del fato, Morai, si; l’empia tua testa and a fiery Spietati, io vi giurati Rebecca Evans demonstrated a sure-footed technique and bright, agile soprano. However it was her rendition of what is for me one of Handel’s greatest arias – Se ‘l mio duol non è si forte which was the second highlight of the evening, coupled with sensitive playing by orchestra and Curnyn finding the right colours in Handel’s delicate scoring.

But it was their Act II duet, the beautiful Io t’abbraccio which was the single highlight of the evening. Richard Jones’ simple yet devastatingly effective staging at this moment made for an almost perfect moment. ‘Almost’ but for the audience clapping before the return of the da capo sadly.

Around these two singers Curnyn had assembled an equally strong cast. John Mark Ainsley, most recently seen in L’Issipile, and Richard Burkhard as Grimoaldo and Garibaldo provided the perfect counterbalance to the hero and heroine. Grimoaldo’s Se per te giungo a godere and Prigioniera ho l’alma in pena not only displayed Ainsley’s talents and ability to manage Handel’s challenging vocal writing for the tenor voice but why he is one of the leading Baroque tenors on stage today. Burkhard similarly reveled in the music that Handel wrote for what was effectively a secondary character. I defy anyone not to be drawn in by arias such as Di Cupido imiego i vanni and Tirannia gli diede il regno when sung with such gusto by Burkhard. Christopher Ainslie demonstrated that he had the technique for Unulfo’s music but despite his smooth lucid tone, he was underpowered throughout.

And finally plaudits to Susan Bickley. Her Storgè (Jephtha) and Sidonie (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant) remain two of her most memorable ENO performances for me and her Eduige has made it a tryptich. While her voice took a while to settle down she delivered a performance with both style and substance.

So why wasn’t it a return to the ‘House of Handel’?

I enjoy Richard Jones’ productions – they are smart, intelligent and often reveal interesting perspectives in terms of the characters themselves. I refer again to his Petra von Kant for ENO and before that his Love For Three Oranges as well as his Macbeth for Glyndebourne and WNO’s disturbing Wozzeck.

His Rodelinda clearly demonstrated that he had spent time with the performers. In his short interview on the ENO website he talks of Rodelinda being a “forensic” examination of people in extreme situations and it is clear that this formed the basis of creating characters who evolved during the course of the opera.

I am not sure that I agree that it was set in ‘post-war’ Italy as some have commented. To me, it smacked more of Fascist Italy with motifs such as the monument to Bertarido, the use of spy cameras, the sense of claustrophobia – heightened in the final act by smaller rooms – and the ever increasing paranoia and spying. Even the costumes were more reminiscent to me of photos that my mother showed me of her youth in Italy. Sadly the Argentinian-inspired tango didn’t quite work nor did that final image – of Bertarido’s wife and son exacting ‘la vendetta’ against their enemies. It unbalanced the sense of justice that the hero had only just magnanimously delivered

The use of tattoos however was inspired. Particularly touching was the moment when Bertarido unexpectedly revealed his own name on Unulfo’s back. Loyalty and ‘unspeakable’ love in that single moment. Although I did think that Garibaldo should have revealed a tattoo – of his own name to underline his own selfishness.

In the same interview Jones stated that Rodelinda was an opera about faithfulness and constancy, and then taking it one step further than perhaps the audience of the Eighteenth Century would have, of erotic obsession, sadism and masochism.

If that was the case then why did some moments seem to court laughter? Was the slapstick deliberate? Was it because ratcheting up the emotional intensity would be too much to ask of the audience? I have no trouble with humour if it doesn’t feel contrived. And sadly there were moments when it did.

The use of oversized swords for example was oddly juxtaposed with the image – with its contemporary associations – of Bertarido blindfolded and tied to a chair.

Or the fact that a laugh was raised when Bertarido accidentally knifes Unulfo when in fact the subtext there is that even when tested, the latter’s loyalty remains steadfast. And while I think the use of treadmills was rather smart it was slightly overdone. For instance, when during one of his arias, the audience was more impressed by Unulfo’s fancy footwork than the delivery of the music.

Handel’s operas do contain humour. Look at Agrippina, or Partenope for example. But I am not sure that Rodelinda does to the same extent.

But there’s no denying that Richard Jones can pack a punch. It wasn’t just the beauty of the music that made Io t’abraccio so poignant. It was the beautifully judged staging – literally pulling the lovers apart – that made that moment incredibly special.

Ultimately this was a Rodelinda of exceptional musicianship but out-of-kilter stagecraft.

If the ‘kinks’ can be ironed out and as long as John Berry doesn’t make the same mistake with his next Handel production as he did with Giulio Cesare, perhaps finally English National Opera can reclaim its own lost throne.

Counter-Productive

In Baroque, Classical Music, Opera, Review on March 2, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Review – Rokoko (Max Emanuel Cencic, Armonia Atenea, George Patrou) & Alto Arias by Leonardo Vinci (Filippo Mineccia, Stile Galante, Stefano Aresi)

Recent recital discs by countertenors have focused on two of the leading castrati of the day but here are two that focus exclusively on specific composers with opposing degrees of success.

Hasse seems – like the tide – to ebb and flow in popularity with labels. I remember Christie’s recording of Cleofide and of course there have been some remarkably fine recital discs since then. But I do wish that perhaps someone – perhaps Alan Curtis once he has finished his Handel cycle – would embark on recording Hasse’s (major) operas.

Il caro sassone, Hasse defines a generation of composers and the Rococo style. Charles Burney referred to him his ‘Apollo’ – “the most natural, elegant and judicious composer of vocal music”.

And the same can be said of this Max Emanuel Cencic’s recital disc.

Most naturally performed and elegantly sung, with a judicious choice of individual arias from both operas and oratorios this disc demonstrates the talents of composer and singer alike.

Countertenors each possess a unique timbre. Some like Jaroussky and Hansen have finely balanced, ethereal voices of incredible agility and range; others like Fagioli have a more liquid and limpid tone while the leading countertenors such as Iestyn Davies, David Daniels and Bejun Mehta combine agility and range with depth of timbre that enables them to most effectively convey incredible emotion and colour.

Cencic falls into the latter category and I have enjoyed his performances in Curtis’ Handel as well as in Petrou’s Alessandro. Here he continues to demonstrate he is an intelligent and sensitive performer with incredible technique and a voice of individual character.

The opening aria is ravishing not only in terms of the Cencic’s performance but also the orchestral ambiance. Unexpectedly, Notte amica is taken from the oratorio Il Cantico de’ Tre Fanciulli. The opening section, above gently murmuring strings and warm woodwind and horns, demonstrates Cencic’s ability to spin out a beautifully controlled legato line, with an enviable evenness of tone throughout his range. The faster middle section – with its almost-Haydnesque quality – enables the singer to showcase his articulate and fluid coloratura as well as a sensitivity to dynamics. And while this might be from an oratorio, Hasse the opera composer is always there – just listen to the word painting and orchestral palette at il silenzio tuo profondo.

I am not convinced that arie di sostenuto is an accepted genre but the remaining arias in this vein are also well crafted and for me sum up the greatest elements of Hasse’s style – elegantly scored with melodies that seem to capture the emotional intelligence of the stylised prose. One common criticism of Hasse was that the length of his arias all but diminished the dramatic momentum of the narrative. Personally when they are as beautiful as these arias, I am quite happy for the drama to stop.

But Hasse is sensitive to both the dramatic action and the text. Returning da capos often emerge seamlessly without the opening ritornello and there is word painting as mentioned above and in La sorte mia tiranna of the in the delicate ‘galanterie’ of the strophic Ma rendi pur contento. Here Hasse employs unusual chromatic progressions as the protagonist sings of his own emotional torment.

And I don’t think there is a more noble melody than that penned for Dei di Roma, ah, perdonate from Il Trionfo di Clelia. It unfolds simply yet with a sense of both dignity and eloquence as you would expect for this character.

The recital also contains numerous examples of arie di bravura and more often Metastasian simile arias. Cadrò ma qual si mira, with its wide leaps and extensive coloratura passages for example; Opprimete i contumaci with its rushing strings literally smiting the enemy or De’ folgori di Giove with its brass colour providing a sense of those very thunderbolts – typical of the period but in Hasse’s hands are elevated.

But of all these arias three stand out – Siam navi all’onde algenti (L’Olimpiade), Solca il mar e nel periglio (Tigrane) and Sesto’s Vo disperato a morte from Tito Vespesiano.

Furious orchestral writing marks out the first aria – probably one of Hasse’s most famous – with bassoon colouring conjuring up the text most effectively. In Solca il mar listen again to how Hasse underlines the words Giunto poi nel caro lido amid the general momentum and coloratura of the rest of the vocal line and above the busy string writing. And as throughout this recital, Cencic’s intelligent ornamentation in the returning da capo doesn’t undermine the sentiment on its repeat.

And Sesto’s Vo disperato a morte provides a fitting ending to this excellent recital especially with its memorable, simple yet effective middle section.

Throughout, George Petrou and Armonia Atenea provide excellent support to Cencic with well-judged tempi and confident, gutsy playing. The inclusion of a Mandolin concerto by Hasse was refreshing – almost like a sorbet between rich courses – but I have to admit that I am glad that Hasse focused primarily on writing exceptional vocal music.

I just wish that they hadn’t chosen that ridiculous Elvis-Meets-Hasse-Meets-Rockstar cover. Marketing people are classical music’s worst enemy.

In contrast to Cencic’s intelligent and beautifully performed recital it is therefore a real tragedy that Filippo Mineccia’s disc of Vinci arias simply doesn’t pass muster.

An opportunity to further the cause of this oft-neglected composer – as with the excellent complete recording of his Artaserse soon to be released on DVD as well – has been missed.

It’s not often that I listen to a recital and think that the standards of performance are this disappointing. I have to admit that Minnecia didn’t impress on Curtis’ recording of Giulio Cesare. But then that entire recording was a rather hit-and-miss affair and if I am honest more ‘miss’ than ‘hit’.

I’d like to say that perhaps if more time and thought had gone into the recital it could have been better, but the simple fact is that Vinci’s music is beyond Mineccia’s talents from the outset. His technique is uneven as is his vocal range and as a result Vinci’s music suffers. Most distracting is that unevenness of strength and tone across his range – lower notes are very underpowered and at times seem to disappear all together while at the top of his range notes seemed barked or forced. There are some definite problems in terms of sustaining the vocal line as evidenced in Sotto il peso where he breaks even the opening phrase before the final word and cadence for example. In the faster numbers his handling of both coloratura and trills is messy with a lack of articulation or definition. Se soffia irato il vento for example and most evident in the final aria in the recital from Eraclea, In questa mia tempesta.

Similarly, any sense of dynamic range is incredibly basic – soft (very rarely) and loud (most of the time). This is most in evidence in Vinci’s beautiful aria from Medo, Taci, o di morte which suffers from simply being bland in this recital.

As disappointing is the playing by Stile Galante directed Stefano Aresi – polite at best, lacklustre at worse.

As I said, a wasted opportunity and all the sadder when recital discs such as Cencic’s demonstrate what can be achieved.

Now all we need is someone to start recording complete operas by Hasse.

Any takers?

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