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Lawrence Zazzo: “A Royal Trio”

spacer Arias and Sinfonias by Ariosti, Bononcini and Handel. La Nuova Musica, Bates. Texts and translations. Harmonia Mundi Super Audio CD HMU807580

RoyalTrioCD

Philadelphia-born countertenor Lawrence Zazzo has a higher profile on European stages than in North America. An adept actor and fluent stylist, he has received considerable acclaim in both Baroque music (particularly Handel) and contemporary compositions in musical centers including London, Paris, Munich and Vienna.

Zazzo has made at least a dozen complete sets of Handel operas and oratorios, mainly for René Jacobs. But this new Harmonia Mundi release, well engineered and well documented, seems designed as a calling card for his talents and/or a souvenir for those who’ve enjoyed his performances in the theater. It succeeds on those terms, showing his command of line and understanding of well-judged cadenzas. He sounds both less churchy and less androgynous than many of his countertenor colleagues; yet it’s not quite a “mainstream” timbre (like those of David Daniels or Andreas Scholl) that might convert doubters to the voice type as a whole. Zazzo has a sensitive conductor in Englishman David Bates, who, like several Baroque conductors, is a former singer himself. In 2007, Bates established La Nuova Musica, an excellent Baroque collective; their playing is clean and bracing.

The titular “Royal Trio” denotes three composers engaged by London’s Royal Academy in the 1720s — Handel, Giovanni Bononcini and Attilio Ariosti. I’ve been avidly attending Handel operas since age seventeen, but I admit that before this CD I had never even heard of the Bolognese Ariosti (1666–1729). Zazzo and Bates offer three fine Ariosti arias highly contrasted in tempo, scoring and mood, two of them from 1723’s Coriolano. The long, testing “Voi d’un figlio tanto misero,” full of traps that Zazzo negotiates well, is one of the more striking discoveries here. Perhaps Corio­lano merits revival? Bononcini, whose music was recorded by Sutherland and Pavarotti, is a more familiar name: Zazzo sings the original version of his “Per la gloria” delicately here. In the Handel selections, Cesare’s always heartening “Va tacito” confirms Zazzo’s quality in the part, which he sang at the Met in 2007; the horn obbligato is splendid. For my taste, Zazzo massively over-decorates the repeated “A” section: none of the near-constant ornaments is out of style, but taken together they just distract too much from one of the composer’s great melodies. Among the many Handel arias here, the only other selection familiar to most listeners will be Bertarido’s taunting “Vivi, tiranno,” from the final scene of Rodelinda, of which Zazzo gives a spirited account. Why do Baroque aria collections always include so much orchestral music? Still, the three little ninety-second sinfonias from Handel’s Admeto make for good palate-cleansers among the vocal selections; and the quietly joyous Overture from Ariosti’s Vespasiano makes a fine opening to this worthwhile venture. spacer 

DAVID SHENGOLD

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