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GRAMOPHONE (10/2015)
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Harmonia Mundi

Code-barres / Barcode : 0093046757465(ID524)

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Reviewer: Richard Wigmore


Elizabeth Watts has chosen to follow her lauded Bach and Mozart recitals not with Handel – the obvious lure – but with an enterprising disc of arias by Scarlatti père. Very welcome it is too. Most of Scarlatti’s vast vocal output, including 100-plus operas and some 600 cantatas, remains virgin territory even to Italian Baroque specialists. Yet on this evidence his craftsmanship, harmonic inventiveness and melodic flair barely suffer by comparison with Handel, who was not above pinching the odd idea from him.


From the thrilling opening ‘Figlio! Tiranno!’, where the long-suffering Griselda veers between outrage and aching maternal tenderness, Watts seeks to create specific, individual characters rather than a series of generic portraits. She injects a clenched-teeth venom, plus a hint of underlying unease, into the coloratura aria from Mitridate Eupatore where the unlovely Stratonica banishes her natural feelings to contemplate the imminent murder of her son. At the other end of the spectrum, Watts sings the exquisite Nativity siciliano ‘Nacque col Gran Messia’ (a foretaste here of Handel’s ‘And he shall feed his flock’) with assuaging warmth, and brings a delicate sensuality – and ravishing pianissimo tone – to a lulling pastoral aria from the oratorio La Santissima Vergine del Rosario. Other highlights, musically and vocally, are a moving lament from the cantata Correa, and a tortuously chromatic threnody for Laodice from Mitridate Eupatore. Watts treats both arias as profound emotional journeys, using the ornamented da capos to explore new shades of anguish and desolation.


If you wanted to quibble, you might cite the aria from La Statira as too slow and soulful for a cheerfully cynical servant’s ditty. Occasionally, too – above all in an aria from Erminia composed for the teenage Farinelli – Watts’s no-holds-barred coloratura can sound uncomfortably frenetic. But these are minor niggles. The music is fascinating, often revelatory, the playing of The English Concert first-rate (Laurence Cummings always has a precise ear for texture and colour), while the mingled grace, brilliance and expressive intensity of Watts’s singing could hardly be bettered. As a sample, try the aria with trumpet (the ever-excellent Mark Bennett) from Endimione e Cintia: not only a riot of competitive virtuosity but here also a vivid expression of human feeling.

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