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GRAMOPHONE (12/2022)
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Reviewer :
Alexandra Coghlan

 ‘Castrapolis’ was the name coined by novelist Dominique Fernandez for 18th-century Naples – a city that was home to a disproportionate number of castratos, products of the city’s many orphanages turned conservatoires. Now Sweden’s Dolci Affetti and co-directors Anna Paradiso and Dan Laurin explore their musical legacy in collaboration with the young Italian sopranist Nicolò Balducci, who makes his recital debut. Music by Hasse and Alessandro Scarlatti is flanked by less familiar names: Giuseppe Porsile, Domenico Sarro and Domenico Auletta. There are opera arias and chamber cantatas, as well as a rather pedestrian concerto for harpsichord and strings (Auletta). Typically it’s Hasse that gives us the attention-grabbing opener. The highlying ‘Non piangete, amati rai’ from Ciro riconosciuto supplements strings with bosky pairs of recorders and oboes, but this cool backdrop is just a foil to the vocal line – all histrionic semiquaver heat in the B section, high-wire legato in the rest.

 Balducci – the latest in a rich new crop of sopranists – has an attractive instrument. The voice is lean and arrow-precise, pure but not lacking in power – one for fans of Jaroussky and Orlin´ski. But what he does with it is more contentious. The Hasse (as well as movements of the Scarlatti and Sarro) is bizarrely over-inflected: all snatched notes, swoops, slides and pop-style pitch bending. Whether it’s expressive affectation or technical crutch it’s certainly intrusive, though it comes into its own in the traditional Neapolitan Tarantella del Gargano that serves as a programmed encore.

But things improve through the programme. Having made his point, Balducci seems to relax and gives us the much more controlled melancholy of Porsile’s ‘Apri Cirene i lumi’ and – even better – Sarro’s lovely aria ‘Che vaneggia’.

Sarro’s cantata Dimmi bel neo che fai is a real discovery and suits Balducci well, and he’s no slough at coloratura either, as Porsile’s ‘Sventurato chi piagato’ demonstrates. There’s bags of promise here, once you get beyond the vocal mannerisms.



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