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GRAMOPHONE (08/2020)
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Reviewer: Richard Wigmore

Since Alfred Deller was ‘discovered’ by Michael Tippett in the 1940s, countertenors have tended to get higher and louder. Many of today’s star falsettists – Philippe Jaroussky, Max Emanuel Cencic, Franco Fagioli – have the compass of a female mezzo. Higher still, the 27-year-old Venezuelan Samuel Mariño is an unequivocal soprano whose repertoire goes beyond the Baroque to include Oscar in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera and Fiorilla in Rossini’s Il turco in Italia. For his debut CD he has alighted on (mainly) rare Handel and even rarer Gluck, in roles composed for either soprano castratos or (Berenice in Gluck’s Antigono) women. Mariño’s flutey, feminine timbre (though you’d hardly mistake him for a female soprano), agile coloratura and ease above the stave immediately impress in a frisky aria from Handel’s Berenice. In a rapt ‘Care selve’ from Atalanta he displays his command of messa di voce – the gradual swelling and ebbing of tone that was a touchstone of an 18th-century singer’s technique – and a true trill, another 18th-century must-have. Mariño is good at refined delicacy, as in ‘Già che morir’ from Gluck’s Antigono, later reworked as ‘Che puro ciel’ in Orfeo. (Like Handel, Gluck was an inveterate recycler.) Aptly for a man contemplating death, he sings this in a fragile, haunted pianissimo, the top Cs gently brushed within the melodic line.

In extrovert mode Mariño finds a metallic glint in the tone, whether jousting with solo oboe in a virtuoso showpiece from Handel’s Arminio or vowing to risk his life for love in ‘Care pupille’ from Gluck’s Il Tigrane – a brilliant performance of the aria that gives the disc its title. He reveals plenty of temperament, too, in a superb scena from Gluck’s Antigono whose fast section draws on the gigue from Bach’s B flat Keyboard Partita and later turns up as Iphigénie’s ‘Je t’implore, et je tremble’ in Iphigénie en Tauride. Here and elsewhere the Halle period band give punchy, rhythmically precise support.

Reservations? Mariño is hardly shy over ornamentation, some of which, especially in cadenzas, seems self-regarding. When he ups the volume for intensity his vibrato can become intrusive – something to beware of in a young singer. At times, too, Mariño overdoes the dreamy languor, as in a graceful if overlong aria from Gluck’s La Sofonisba. He might also learn a thing or two from Cecilia Bartoli, in her Gluck album (Decca, A/01), about colouring and projecting Italian words. But this is an accomplished, often exciting debut from a singer who must count as something of a vocal phenomenon. Orfeo’s presentation includes plenty of photos of the visually marketable Mariño plus a decent booklet essay, but, true to form, no texts and translations. Nor will you find them online. Even if you have good Italian, you’ll only pick up the general gist of what these arias are about. Depressingly predictable, but galling nonetheless.


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