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CD of the Week – Arias for Guadagni

Arias for Guadagni
Hyperion

Aria recitals discs are, by definition, non-recommendable. They exist to advertise the singer more than the song and any intellectual coherence in the programming is generally incidental. Most go straight into the bin without a second spin.

This release, however, could be the exception that proves the rule. Iestyn Davies, an ascendant counter-tenor, has sampled the life of Gaetano Guadagni (1728-1792), a castrato who flourished in mid-18th century London and Vienna. The disc is an eclectic selection of the music he performed.

Top of the line is, inevitably, late-period Handel – the great arias from his Biblical oratorios. But there’s also a pair of songs from the master’s long-forgotten assistant, John Christopher Smith, and from his aggressive local competitor, Thomas Arne – a vengeance aria from Alfred.

In Vienna, Guadagni got to know Gluck, who wrote Orfeo with his voice in mind. But he also sang music by Johann Adolf Hasse who was more than just a Mozart also-ran. And between one composers and the next Guadagni slipped in in a few arias of his own. Popular and generous, Guadagni lived to see demanded for his tyoe of singer wane as more women mounted the opera stage.

Iestyn Davies recreates his world without apology or nostalgia. This is a documentary snatch of singing style, vividly accompanied by the baroque group Arcangelo, with conductor Jonathan Cohen. Added to the unsuspected variety of musical invention, the listener has forbidden sense of peeking behind the curtain of history to observe opera at a critical moment in its formation. I was gripped by Iestyn Davies’s concept and by the controlled beauty of his boyish voice.

3 more vocal CDs

Véronique Gens
Ondine

This performance may be the nuits d’été de nos jours, a sumptuous exploration of Berlioz’s great set by a soprano who has emerged from Baroque tweeting into the romantic big time. The accompaniment by the Orchestre National des Pays de Loire under John Axelrod is exemplary.

Christian Gerhaher: Ferne Geliebte
Sony

The Austrian baritone sandwiches Schoenberg (Hanging Gardens) and Berg (Altenburg Postcards) between slices of Beethoven and Haydn. Against all odds, the
blend feels organic, with the atonal Schoenberg songs sounding specially effective; Gerold Huber accompanies.

Erwin Schrott: Arias
Sony

This is a big, bad aria album of the vanity era – a set of bleeding opera chunks that display the beefcake baritone in his showcase roles. The voice is in good shape, the orchestra near-inaudible.