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Sunhae Im: “Orfeo[s]”

spacer Italian and French Cantatas by Clérambault, Pergolesi, Rameau, and A. Scarlatti. With Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin. Texts and translations. Harmonia Mundi HMC 902189

Recordings Sunhae Im Orfeos Cover 615

The earliest operas drew their material from classical antiquity, with the Orpheus legend being particularly popular; as the present program suggests, it was considered a suitable theme for the chamber cantata as well. All of these solo pieces follow the standard recitative-and-aria format, with no surprises. Only Alessandro Scarlatti's L'Orfeo offers a two-minute instrumental "Introduzione"; in the other works, the soloist enters after just a brief introduction.

A curiosity is that all four of these composers, by setting the scene with narration before introducing Orpheus, pose themselves the problem of shifting between third and first person within a solo setting. Rameau's Orphée, logically, treats all the recitatives as narrative moments and assigns most of the arias to the jeunes amours or to Orpheus, although it's clearly the narrator who addresses the final aria to the audience. In Pergolesi's Orfeo, the introductory recitative is treated as narration, with Orpheus taking over everything thereafter. Alessandro Scarlatti's L'Orfeo follows that pattern until the final recitative, begun by the narrator, switches to the protagonist in mid-stream. Louis-Nicolas Clérambault's Orphée shifts back and forth with no particular structural logic.

Sunhae Im gives expressive performances, alert to the music's quick changes of person and mood. She goes a little over the top in peak moments — momentarily clouding pitch in the Scarlatti — but her commitment can't be faulted; nor can her pacing and inflection of the Italian. Im is a leggiero soprano with a shiny top, but she "sings into" the midrange with fuller tone than I've heard before, and the occasional brief melismas are smooth and even. Only in the Clérambault does she skate along the upper side of her voice in a single thin, uninteresting color; even here, however, she projects both humility and urgency within a dignified posture.

The Akademie für Alte Musik supports the soloist well, with bracing, alert rhythms, though I question the decision to use just single strings in most of the program. The intimate effect is pleasing enough, but the few extra players in the Pergolesi add a measure of tonal body that would have been welcome elsewhere. A prominent organ helps in the Scarlatti. spacer 


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