Philippe Jaroussky: "Farinelli: Porpora Arias"
With Bartoli; Venice Baroque Orchestra, Marcon. Texts and translations. Erato 9341332
France's star among star countertenors, Philippe Jaroussky, has previously recorded some music by Baroque composer Nicola Porpora (1686–1768). This disc — an excellent introduction for the uninitiated both to Porpora and to Jaroussky's artistry — finds him in rewarding collaboration with Andrea Marcon and his splendid Venice Baroque Orchestra. The organizing principal here concerns star castrato Farinelli, whom Porpora famously trained and groomed for his spectacular pan-European career. Porpora's da capo arias for his pupil take one of two forms — up-tempo and martial or softly elegaic. Both involve reams of coloratura and multiple restatements of melodic material, leaving opportunities aplenty for cadenzas and variants. Jaroussky handles those with commendable taste — and sometimes breathtaking, sometimes slightly approximate dash. The seventy-one-minute disc contains seven world-premiere recordings in its eleven tracks. Pietro Metastasio penned the operas' universally classical subjects.
A highlight is the pair of contrasted duets with Cecilia Bartoli — the hushed, slowly unfurling "Placidetti zeffiretti," from Polifemo, and the joyful/sad/joyful "La gioia ch'io sento," from Mitridate — sounding like an outtake from Handel's glorious Italian duets. The voices have strikingly different textures, but they blend well. The Roman mezzo outshines her host in the amount of idiomatic meaning she can express via simple words such as "gioia" or "labbro." The more languorous slow numbers show remarkable legato flow but pose a risk of monotony even with such a musically fine and vocally gifted exponent. Jaroussky resembles Andreas Scholl in that his tone, however angelically pure or pleasing, offers a rather limited coloristic palette; emotion is there, but it comes across as rather generalized on disc. Marcon's well-trained forces provide springy, alert frames for the vocalism. The trumpets on "Nell'attendere il mio bene," from Polifemo, outperform most of the Baroque exponents I've been hearing lately.
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