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GRAMOPHONE (January / 2017)
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Decca 4832473   

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Reviewer: Mark Pullinger

A symphony in pink and blue, the candy-coloured hardback book is enough to give you toothache. The irrepressible Cecilia Bartoli and cellist Sol Gabetta pose in a series of gowns (Vivienne Westwood gets a credit), their hair adorned with flowers or giant bows, obviously having such a laugh that you’re already smiling before the disc has even hit the CD player. Entitled ‘Dolce duello’, the album’s theme is Baroque arias which feature prominent roles for cello obbligato, Bartoli and Gabetta sparring in a selection of musical duels across a century of composition. Make no mistake, these are duels of the gentlest kind, kittenish tussles with claws retracted. Some of the arias are slow numbers, voice and cello entwining in a loving embrace. Arias by Caldara, Vivaldi, Handel and Porpora are particularly lovely. Bartoli is technically astonishing, rattling off coloratura with drill-like precision but wide-eyed joy and bags of personality. Gabetta’s cello is softergrained (and occasionally a little backwardly placed), her playing nimble and responsive to Bartoli’s ornaments in a playful game of cat and mouse.

Vivaldi’s Tito Manlio has received a few recordings and Vitellia’s ‘Di verde ulivo’ is one of the few arias on the disc where it’s possible to listen to a comparative version (three of the tracks are premiere recordings). On Ottavio Dantone’s complete recording (Naïve’s Vivaldi Edition, 4/06), Marijana Mijanovic´ and the cellist of Accademia Bizantina make heavy weather of it, whereas Bartoli and Gabetta skip along brightly, with extended solo ornaments. ‘Aure, andate e baciate’ from Albinoni’s serenata Il nascimento dell’aurora is one of the livelier numbers, an aria di bravura evoking the rustle of the breeze.

Cappella Gabetta, led by Andrés Gabetta (Sol’s brother), offer tender support, with especially charming theorbo and violin contributions to the aria from Domenico Gabrielli’s oratorio San Sigismondo, re di Borgogna. The aria from Caldara’s Gianguir also has the Gabetta siblings tussling together along with Bartoli. Boccherini’s Cello Concerto No 10 in D major, with Gabetta taking the solo spotlight in a spirited performance, feels like a bit of an afterthought, tacked on to the end of the programme, where it might have made a welcome instrumental interlude in the middle of the disc.

As ever with Bartoli’s projects, the booklet is full of interest, from Alexandra Coghlan’s entertaining history of musical duels to Giovanni Andrea Sechi’s detailed programme notes. Highly calorific Baroque fun.

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