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Karthäuser, Im, Hammarström; B. Mehta, Wolff; B'Rock Orchestra Ghent, Jacobs. Text and translation. Archiv 2037202 (2)
René Jacobs's fine new release of Handel's extraordinary 1733 opera was recorded in the Concertgebouw of Bruges in the summer of 2013, after staged performances at the Monnaie in Brussels. It joins several worthy and substantial CD performances of Orlando, notably those led by Christopher Hogwood (L'Oiseau Lyre) and Alexander Weimann (ATMA). Jacobs's ensemble is responsive and sonically delightful. He keeps his trademark innovations within limits; for example, he deploys wind-machine thunder effects at Zoroastro's entrance and birdcalls during one of his magic tricks. We hear a bit of meandering harpsichord, but nothing to set beside the attention-grabbing twiddlings in Jacobs's recent Mozart sets.
Bejun Mehta, ever alert to Orlando's mercurial changes of mood (and sanity), knows his way dramatically around this challenging Senesino-created role. Though not in quite his best voice — some of the high cadenzas get rather wavery — Mehta sounds very healthy both in sustained cantilena and in rapid passagework. I prefer his timbre and his interpretation to those of Hogwood's James Bowman and to Weimann's impressively fluent but rather bland Owen Willetts. As the put-upon victim of Orlando's affection, Sophie Karthäuser offers a light, clear lyric soprano that is quite attractive in Angelica's slower music, of which there's a lot; though the comparison admittedly sets the bar incredibly high, the Belgian soprano's somewhat reticent timbre is not so compelling as either Arleen Auger's (Hogwood) or Karina Gauvin's (Weimann) in rapid passagework. Though she occasionally works with other early-music conductors such as William Christie and Jean-Christophe Spinosi, Sunhae Im has been a regular participant in the Jacobs caravan for years. The agile, somewhat chirpy Korean soprano casts a disarming presence in person, and — as her Dorinda attests here — she is steeped in Baroque style and verylively with words. Swedish mezzo Kristina Hammarström is an admirable stylist and vocalist little known in North America; as Medoro — the mad hero's gentler rival, who in my experience nearly always steals the show with Act II's gorgeous "Verdi allori" — she also has formidable recorded competition, but she makes a fine impression.
Konstantin Wolff (Zoroastro) is another singer whose handsome presence seems to keep him working all the time, especially in the Baroque repertory. He certainly commands the style in terms of delivery and ornamentation, but his bass-baritone, just to hear on recordings, is "fine" — nothing special, a shade nasal — and, as with most low-voiced singers undertaking Handel, his coloratura is very heavily aspirated. Orlando remains one of Handel's major achievements. Though several female artists on the competitive sets emerge as more distinguished, Jacobs's edition, on two rather than three CDs and with a superior protagonist, certainly deserves consideration.
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