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GRAMOPHONE ( Awards 2021 - 11/2021)
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Reviewer: Alexandra Coghlan

Call it a sequel, a follow-up or a ‘parallel journey’ (as researcher  Yannis François does in his illuminating introductory note): whatever you choose, ‘Anima æterna’ is very much a companion album to Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orlin´ski’s solo debut ‘Anima sacra’ (12/18). There’s no chronological progression; we’re still very much in the sacred music of the 18th century – just glimpsing around the corner to the beginnings of Classical style in Gennaro Manna’s Laudate pueri – sifting through lesser-known oratorios and cantatas by Fux, Zelenka, Handel and more in hopes of finding gold.

And we definitely find it. The voice already maturing and gaining new colours in ‘Facce d’amore’ (12/19) now strives less hard to prove it. Where the earlier album occasionally felt overcooked, the voice thrust too hard for dramatic effect, here there’s an ease, a security to Orlin´ski’s instrument. The joy of the voice is its suppleness, softness, something sustained through leaps and passages of coloratura. There’s none of Cencic or Fagioli’s taut muscle; rather than pushing forwards into the vocal drama, Orlin´ski seems to lean back into it. On disc it makes for rich listening, though it would be interesting to hear how it translates to the opera house.

François once again proves a compelling guide to the period, seizing you from the start with Zelenka’s arresting motet Barbara, dira, effera, where Orlin´ski finds himself shadowboxing with a feisty bassoon – just one of many classy obbligato cameos from Il Pomo d’Oro, characterful and energised as ever here under guest director Francesco Corti rather than Emelyanychev. The contrast into the ravishing ‘Non t’amo per il ciel’ from Fux’s Il fonte della salute is beautifully staged, Orlin´ski’s pliable, smudgy tone echoed in the resinous solo baryton. The slower legato arias (including Almeida’s ‘Giusto Dio’ and Handel’s Antiphon in D minor) are a highlight. We get a serious bonus in the addition of both chorus and Gramophone’s new Young Artist of the Year, soprano Fatma Said, who joins Orlin´ski for Zelenka’s multi-movement Laetatus sum – coppery-bright to his cooler vocal shades, throwing out a top D with nonchalance. Premiere recordings from Bartolomeo Nucci and Gennaro Manna are attractive curiosities, adding the final sell to an album that reinforces Orlin´ski as one of the most striking young talents not just in countertenor singing but in Baroque music more broadly.


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