Max Emanuel Cencic: "Venezia: Opera Arias of the Serenissima"
Arias by Albinoni, Caldara, Gasparini, Giacomelli, Porta, Sellitto and Vivaldi. Il Pomo d'Oro, Minasi. Texts and translations. Virgin 509994645-4522
Here is yet another fine album from Max Emanuel Cencic; the impressive Croatian countertenor finds himself among several top-notch colleagues, male and female, recently releasing CD collections of unknown or virtually unknown Baroque arias going way beyond the canonical. In a survey of arias written for Venetian theaters in the first four decades of the eighteenth century, when the opera seria genrereigned supreme, Cencic confronts not only the expected Vivaldi but Tomaso Albinoni (now remembered mainly as an instrumental composer but the author of eighty-one operas), Antonio Caldara, Francesco Gasparini, Geminiano Giacomelli, Giovanni Porta and Giuseppe Sellitto. All lived and worked in Venice for some portion of their careers, though even at that early date, Italian composers sought their fortunes elsewhere (Porta, for example, spending years in London and Munich).
The industrious, at times even daring Cencic covers a wide range here, with fine collaborators in Riccardo Minasi's splendidly springy and responsive string ensemble Il Pomo d'Oro, founded just last year. Besides the high level of performance, this is a particularly enlightening collection. In many years of Baroque-music listening, I had heard exactly two of the eleven arias presented before, and none of them is a dud, or a merely conventional piece — nor does Virgin pad the recital with overtures.
Joyce DiDonato's fabulous Drama Queens disc has given some currency to Porta; "Mormorando quelle fronde," from La Costanza Combattuta in Amore (1716), with its orchestral imitation of lapping waves, shows Cencic's ease in sustained legato passages but also a skill in incorporating lower notes into a line that not all countertenors share. The stop-time Albinoni aria chosen is for Apollo, no less! The slow, spellbinding "Sposa, non mi conosci" is still sometimes ascribed to Vivaldi — who borrowed it, with slightly altered lyrics, for use in the pastiche Bajazet — but composed by Geminiano Giacomelli for 1734's Merope. It's good to have such a satisfying version of the original piece at hand. The CD, recorded in a theater associated with Goldoni in the Vicenza region (inland from La Serenissima) in August and September 2012, is well engineered if rather short at sixty-four minutes. There must be one or two more Gasparini or Sellitto arias out there worth recovering from obscurity!
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