Philippe Jaroussky: "The Handel Album"
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Philippe Jaroussky: "The Handel Album"

CD Button Ensemble Artaserse, Jaroussky. Texts and translations. Erato  0190295759667

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Critics Choice Button 1015 

FRENCH COUNTERTENOR Philippe Jaroussky leads his Ensemble Artaserse in satisfying, deeply personal performances of Handel opera arias both known and obscure. Each piece is shaped thoughtfully, as we would expect from this immensely talented and committed artist. The orchestra’s rhythmic pulse always supports the elegant unfolding of text, whether languid or temperamental, and dramatic ritards and expressive pauses command the listener’s attention to a particular emotional state. Decorations and ornaments—now and then shared with the instrumentalists—sound fresh and inventive, crafted with skill and delivered with perfect poise. Fueled by his commanding artistry, Jaroussky’s singing is always beguiling, and he deftly manages effects that might sound cheesy from others—such as the high G that concludes Arsamene’s angry and determined “Sì, la voglio,” from Serse.

Jaroussky excels at the spacious lyrical line. The CD opens with “Se potessero i sospir’ miei,” from Imeneo, in which the beautifully throbbing heartbeat of eighth notes offers steady underpinning to the lightly decorated sequences of the vocal line. Radamisto’s “Qual nave smarrito” unfolds in the same hesitating sarabande rhythms as the more familiar “V’adoro, pupille,” and Jaroussky gently builds the short phrases into a satisfying long line. The high point of the recital is the perfectly poised “Sussurrate, onde vezzose,” from Amadigi, on which Jaroussky’s voice floats delicately and freely above the limpid accompaniment.

There are plenty of virtuoso showpieces as well, and Jaroussky has become more comfortable with the exuberant display and vocal technique these pieces demand. He takes “Vile, se mi dai vita” (another Radamisto aria) at a quick clip, and he avoids oversinging or trying to spit out the vicious, sarcastic text. He wisely uses his light voice with energy and point to convey the thrust—and even the athletic fun—of vigorous arias. 

The playing, particularly from the solo winds, is exemplary. Although several pieces are transposed to suit his range (a perfectly Handelian practice, as the booklet assures us), Jaroussky works hard at the weightier and darker moments, such as “Deggio morire, o stele,” from Siroe. Tolomeo’s important suicide scene, “Stille amare,” gets the full cabaret treatment, with rubatos and jazz tones aplenty as the poison takes effect, until the voice breaks off midcadence. It’s the sort of personal artistic license Jaroussky has earned—and besides, there’s no conductor but himself to argue with. —Judith Malafronte 

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