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Fanfare Magazine: 37:5 (05-06/2014) 
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Reviewer: Lynn René Bayley

This new album features Baroque arias that composer Nicolo Porpora (1686–1768) wrote for the legendary castrato Farinelli (né Carlo Broschi). In the liner notes, Jaroussky explains that he had heretofore purposely avoided Farinelli’s repertoire, fearing it would be too challenging for him to bring off successfully, but the more he programmed them in concerts the more he realized that, for whatever reason, they suited his voice well. Thus we have this disc, which includes no less than seven world premiere recordings out of the nine arias and two duets (the latter with the great Cecilia Bartoli, who seldom pairs her voice with countertenors). And, perhaps not too surprisingly, it is a success.

I would have said “an unqualified success,” but I must play devil’s advocate and point out that Jaroussky, for all his vocal gold and exceptional musicality, does not give us 100 percent Farinelli here. True, he does a lot of what that famed castrato did: the haunting mezza-voce, the crescendos on held notes beginning with straight tone and ending with a little thrill of vibrato at the end, the remarkably long-breathed phrasing that sounds as if the singer is not taking any breath at all, but he does not give us the “chains of trills” (up to 25 in one breath!) or the unusual form of staccato singing of Farinelli’s time that was known as the “spotted flute” technique, which you can hear on a few of Emma Kirkby’s early recordings for L’Oiseau-Lyre and on soprano-musicologist Nella Anfuso’s 1987 album of Arias Preferred by Carlo Broschi Farinelli (now a two CD set on Stilnovo 809249). Anfuso, however, accomplished all these things—the ones Jaroussky does and the few he doesn’t—by slowing down the tempo of every aria she sang. In addition, without being cruel, her vocal tone was exceptionally dry and not at all pretty, whereas (as I say) Jaroussky has the most beautiful countertenor voice of our time.

Oddly, perhaps, some of the few things Jaroussky either cannot or simply does not do are accomplished by his vocal partner on the two duets, but this should be no surprise to those of us who thrilled to her album of castrato arias, Sacrificium (Decca 4781521). Particularly in “Placidetti zefiretti” from Polifemo, their two voices blend together like two jewels under refracted blue light. It is one of the most exquisite things I have heard on a record in my entire life. I hasten to point out that, despite the very few vocal “tricks” of Farinelli that Jaroussky does not do, his singing is not only tonally beautiful and stylistically suave but, as usual with this highly intelligent artist, his interpretations of these arias and duets are also quite good, at least as satisfying as any interpretation of Baroque arias can be.

Supporting Jaroussky in his effort is the exceptional Venice Baroque Orchestra led by Andrea Marcon. While still playing all their string passages in unvarying straight tone, this orchestra manages to inflect the music and phrase exquisitely in slow passages, which matches the musical sensitivity of Jaroussky’s singing. This disc is not only a joy to hear, it is a musical and vocal education. If these recordings had come out on 78s in the distant past, collectors would value them even more highly as rarified examples of singing mastery at its highest level, but I still believe you should also acquire Anfuso’s set to hear all the other things that Farinelli could do.

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