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GRAMOPHONE ( Awards Issue - 2005)
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Decca 4756569

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Reviewer: Richard Wigmore

For his colleagues, Handel included, Senesino (‘the Sienese’) seems to have been the star castrato from hell: vain, insufferably arrogant, likely to throw a tantrum at the slightest provocation. But for three decades he enraptured audiences in Italy and London with the beauty of his voice (‘powerful, clear, equal and sweet’, according to Johann Quantz) and his mastery of both the ‘pathetic’ and the brilliant styles. Quantz’s description could apply just as well to the far more amenable Andreas Scholl, who has come up with an enterprising programme of arias associated with the temperamental 18th-century castrato, several recorded for the first time. If the Handel items – all well known apart from an elegant minuet aria from Flavio – contain most of the best tunes, there are many delights elsewhere, including an exultant Scarlatti aria complete with swashbuckling horns, two tenderly expressive numbers by Lotti and a virtuoso ‘rage’ aria (‘Stelle ingrate’) by Albinoni calculated to bring the house down.

Scholl sings this stunningly, the reams of coloratura dazzlingly even yet never mechanical, and delivered on seemingly inexhaustible reserves of breath. Another highlight is his joyous singing of the Scarlatti aria, where he gives full vent to his resonant middle register. But it is the slower, soulful numbers that remain longest in the memory, above all ‘Cara sposa’ and the scenas from Rodelinda and Giulio Cesare. In the accompanied recitatives Scholl reveals an eloquence of declamation for which Senesino was famed, while the arias combine liquid, subtly varied tone (including gentle, flutey high notes that recall Alfred Deller) with a command of the long Handelian line. Scholl imaginatively uses the da capos (discreetly ornamented) to enhance the expression, and proves a master of the technique of messa di voce – gradually swelling and then softening on long sustained notes – that was specially prized in the 18th century. The grace and intensity of the singing are matched by vivid accompaniments from Ottavio Dantone’s period band, and caught in a sympathetic acoustic. Enthusiastically recommended, and not just to paid-up Scholl fans.

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