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GRAMOPHONE (08/2017)
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Reviewer: David Vickers

The Neapolitan castrato Nicola Grimaldi (16731732), nicknamed Nicolino (or Nicolini), studied at the Conservatorio della Pietà dei Turchini, first appeared on stage at the age of 12 in an opera by Provenzale and proceeded to perform in over 100 productions across nearly half a century. In Venice he was awarded the Cross of St Mark and at the peak of his powers he created the title-roles in Handel’s early London operas Rinaldo (1711) and Amadigi (1715); he also sang in new works by Alessandro Scarlatti, Gasparini, Sarro, Leo and Hasse, and it was only his death that prevented him from taking part in the first performances of Pergolesi’s Salustia.

A few years ago Dmitry Egorov and La Stagione Frankfurt presented an attractively varied assortment of music for Nicolino by Handel and Scarlatti (DHM, 2011), whereas Carlo Vistoli performs a slightly different selection of Handel arias (with less variety of instrumentation) alongside music by Sarro, Scarlatti and Pergolesi. Talenti Vulcanini’s strings play with a sure sense of harmonic delineation in Rinaldo’s famous lament ‘Cara sposa’, which is sung with visceral passion and musicality, although overt embellishments oscillate between insightful amplification of emotion and distracting distortions. Vistoli’s supple facility for rapid passagework is to the fore in ‘Tono ai ceppi’ from Sarro’s Arsace (Naples, 1718), communicative articulacy is typified by ‘Mi cinga la fama’ from Scarlatti’s Cambise (Naples, 1719) and there is pathos aplenty in ‘Al real piede ognora’ from Salustia (Naples, 1732).

Aside from some momentary imperfections in the strings’ intonation, the youthful ‘volcanic talents’ play with theatrical tautness and élan, and are directed by harpsichordist Stefano Demicheli with a reliable sense of pacing, detail and texture. Neither Egorov nor Vistoli achieve an ideally balanced and comprehensive survey of Nicolino’s entire career and repertoire, so perhaps that ship has sailed for the time being.

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