7 Jun 2012

CD Review: Vivaldi: Teuzzone

Originally written for musicalcriticism.com
7th June 2012

Teuzzone is the twelfth opera in naïve’s Vivaldi Edition’s series and, incidentally, the first new release by Jordi Savall (Farnace was first previously on Alia Vox). The opera belongs to a period of Venetian obsession with exoticism and chinoiseries influenced by the city’s trading links. It has an interesting and engaging libretto which follows the squabbling of several interested parties over the will of the Chinese emperor. Vivaldi’s opera was not the first setting of this tale and, unsurprisingly, there is a suggestion that several arias, as was often the case with a popular libretto such as this, may have been imported from other composer’s works as baggage arias - arie di baula - on the insistence of the star singers. Pure Vivaldi or not, it’s great stuff and a great performance.

Savall is one of our leading lights in early music, his specialist repertory now spanning the medieval to the late baroque with a fluidity that never ceases to astonish and challenge the listener. The classiness, for want of a better word, of Savall’s direction is clear from the very opening of the sinfonia; the quality of the ensemble and the sounds that he coaxes from the orchestra are exceptional. The opera is well cast and each character has some really good material to perform. For me, however, the show is rather stolen by the really astonishing singing of Paolo Lopez in the title role. I’ve been unconvinced by sopranistas in the past but Lopez is most certainly the real deal and it is interesting to compare his vocal brightness against the richer tones of countertenor Antonio Giovannini (Egaro) in his Act II aria La gloria del tuo sangue. Whilst both are excellent singers it is clear that Lopez is more than just a high countertenor - his is really a different fach altogether. Lopez has a wonderful sequence of music at the beginning of Act II with an awkwardly angular cavatina Di Trombe Guerriere that he sings with an impressive control followed up with some really feisty recitative. Exciting stuff.

The performance is consistently gripping throughout from all soloists and, especially the orchestra. The music follows the keen narrative thrust of the libretto but, as always with Vivaldi, he never quite does what one would expect from a composer of his generation; more than once he sidesteps the da capo formula, often with pleasing new material. One can only hope that a staging comes to London at some point.

This release is highly recommended and one can only hope that Jordi Savall  and Le Concert des Nations have more projects like this planned for the near future.

Le Concert des Nations/ Jordi Savall (Naive OP 30513)

This review was originally posted at: http://www.musicalcriticism.com/recordings/cd-teuzzone-0612.shtml

CD Review: Vivaldi et al: L'Olimpiade

Originally written for musicalcriticism.com
7th June 2012

As the 2012 Olympics approach, London is bedecked with nationalist symbolism not only for the games but for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee which would appear to have provoked us, as a nation, to rejoice in a nostalgic revisiting of 1950s taste. Whereas coronation favourites such as teacakes and sponge cake have not changed significantly with the passage of time, Baroque music is in a quite, quite different position from the way it was heard in the 1950s. The sea-change in performance practice, and ergo listening experience, was so passionately wrested from the hands of modern ensembles and the results of the new breed of skilled period instrumentalists so convincing that only now with an appropriate distance do we realise the extent to which things have changed. Modern ensembles such as the Venice Baroque Orchestra play with a fluidity and grace that was would have been unimaginable in the middle of the last century and their singers seem to have found a confident style that marries passion and clarity.

This new release is part of a growing number of high quality baroque recordings that reflect the bewildering volume of eighteenth century music that has not previously made it into modern performance, and projects like the Vivaldi programme, spearheaded by naïve - with their distinctive packaging and ear for sprightly, energetic performances - is now reaching into the vaults of forgotten music and finding some real treasures.

L’Olimpiade is no exception to the high standard of the naïve catalogue but it is a curious disc since rather than containing a complete opera, this disc covers the complete arias in Metastasio’s libretto. The sixteen composers represented in this pasticcio each set either the full opera to music or parts thereof and so this resulting disc is like a selection-box of music stretching from Caldara (1670-1736) via Vivaldi and Hasse all the way to Cherubini (1760-1840) and as a result covers quite a wide stylistic ground on its journey.

The plot itself is a charming Arcadian tale of a King’s daughter whose hand in marriage can only be won through triumph at the Olympic games. It has the usual sub-plots of disguise and concealed identity and, as always, Metastasio’s characters are so well defined that they lend themselves to great music. Indeed, under Markellos Chryssicos’ baton, the opera is both well cast and well performed with a pleasing contrast between the two sopranos Karina Gauvin and Ruth Rosique and the two mezzos Romina Basso and Franziska Gottwald.

Vivaldi’s music only appears once in Licida’s delicious sleep aria Mentre dormi deliciously sung by Gottwald and, of the other sixteen composers there are several arias worthy of note but Jommelli’s stormy Lo seguitai felice for the character Magacle - Romina Basso - is really exciting.

This is a fantastic release and despite the oddity of hearing an endless stream of arias, it is worth the time getting to know. The taut, passionate performances are of a very high quality and, of course, it’s a pleasing foil to the Olympic mania that is about to overwhelm us. For those wishing to find out more, naïve have posted footage from the recording sessions on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zf3hvyXSTU8&list=UUM5yg4b4HLiM87F4RSigRlw&index=1&feature=plcp but listeners should bear in mind that the sound quality on youtube is very disappointing; what you get on the cd is, thankfully, a world apart.

Venice Baroque Orchestra/Markellos Chryssicos (Naive V5295)

This review was originally posted at: