C. Wake Reply to on 12 October 2015
|This is one of the best recordings of coloratura singing - fast runs and ornaments – that I have ever heard. Anyone into coloratura should listen to it. It's important to say that first, before I go on to a fair amount of negativity.
The music here mostly dates from the 1780's & 90's but forget Haydn, Mozart or early Beethoven. This stuff looks back fifty years and comes from composers whose work soon vanished from sight; Cimarosa is probably the only name you might recognise. The Opera titles alone – Rinaldo, Alessandro, Pirro – reveal that we are back in the immediately post-Handel stylistic world. The peg all this hangs on is a Castrato billed as "the greatest of the Napoleonic era" but we have to remember that by the early 1800's the Castrato was a rare and antique bird – the heyday of the voice was over by 1760.
It is true that Luigi Marchesi attracted a big following in his day, but it consisted of fans who went to hear fireworks not music, much as fans of a younger Juan Diego Flores used to go hear him sing top c's – and not give up until he'd sung them twice through (at least). I expect Marchesi had the same experience. This would explain why he prepared parallel elaborations of some arias, which Hallenberg demonstrates in her programme. For Marchesi's speciality was not high notes, though he had a big range. His excellence was in fast elaborate runs and ornaments – but then so is Ann Hallenberg's.
I have been a Hallenberg fan for many years. I regard her as one of the great Handel singers of our time and I think it a great pity that she's been pushed out of heroic Handelian roles by the fashion for fake-castrato falsetto singing. Nevertheless she has made many distinguished recordings, and in a recent tour of a Farinelli programme with Rousset it was clear that her voice is still in good shape. But on this disc she moves to a new level. She sounds even more confident and relaxed in impossibly difficult arias, her ornamentation is free and easy, her top notes are clear and true; there is not a hint of strain or tightness anywhere. It easily her best recording - in purely technical sense.
And not just Hallenberg. Unlike her last album, obviously made on a shoestring, we have here a properly resourced effort, with a reasonable-sized band - not huge but big enough – well-prepared and playing with evident commitment in works they have never seen before and never will again. Much thought has gone into the balance of the programme which makes for a pretty satisfying listen – one can easily manage four or five tracks at a go. The booklet notes are very good and do their level best to make a case for Marchesi and work written for him. Yet the music itself is all great tosh – the single exception is a distinctly Mozartian scena by Myslivecek.
Hallenberg likes to explore the unknown; fair enough. I admired her disc of arias for Marietta Marcolini by obscure contemporaries of the young Rossini. But I do wish she would give us a recording of real music from the castrato golden age. A disc of her Farinelli programme would be something; an album of arias for Senesino – whose voice she matches exactly, as far as one can tell – would be one to treasure.