Julia Lezhneva: "Alleluia"
Sacred Latin motets by Vivaldi, Handel, Porpora, Mozart. Il Giardino Armonico, Antonini. Latin texts and translations. Decca 478 5242
Julia Lezhneva's CD of eighteenth-century solo motets comes two years after her Rossini aria debut disc, which was widely criticized as premature. (The Russian soprano has just turned twenty-four.) There's been considerable technical improvement, especially with tuning, and this seems to be a better repertoire fit, as Lezhneva's clean, lean approach is well-suited to the music of Vivaldi, Handel, Porpora and Mozart.
Yet there are artistic concerns that maturity may or may not address. Lezhneva's voice is nearly devoid of vibrato, and while the dark color is alluring and Lezhneva's rhythmic energy conveys a youthful freshness and boldness, the color palette is limited, and high notes are shrill. What is most distressing is that the soprano pays so little attention to words, either as conveyers of meaning or as phrase-contouring devices, that one wonders what draws her to singing rather than playing the oboe or violin. Recitatives — each motet has at least one — sound like mere annoyances on the way to another aria. Admittedly, Handel reused much of the 1707 motet Saeviat Tellus for Apollo e Dafne, Rinaldo and other Italian and English pieces, but this doesn't make the words meaningless. The group seems to struggle with one movement in particular, "Stellae fidae"; a keener sense of text conveyed and shared with the instrumentalists would have rendered this piece less bland and wooden.
On the plus side, Lezhneva's trill is clean and lovely, and she uses it to great effect in both slow and quick movements, expressive here, animated there. In addition, her cool sound and poised delivery bring serenity to such slow movements as Handel's "O nox dulcis" and Vivaldi's "Tunc meus fletus," but Mozart's "Tu virginum corona," from his well-known Exsultate, Jubilate, is a different style entirely, no longer playing on the earlier static use of one effect. Here Mozart's spacious, lyrical lines sound robotic and stiff, with little motion or contour and no vocal personality.
Those who equate Baroque music with fast coloratura will be very pleased. Lezhneva's runs are startlingly accurate and speedy, and the pairing with Il Giardino Armonico, a period orchestra that favors extreme tempos, is smart. String-section stingers make the opening movement of Vivaldi's In Furore Iustissimae Irae a flashy disc opener, but the rushed tempo of the first movement of In Caelo Stele Clare Fulgescant renders Porpora's lovely, gallant phrases ludicrously brittle, and the motet's hurried final "Alleluia" sounds hectic and glib.
If Lezhneva's artistic personality is still in development, this is yet another premature recording.
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