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GRAMOPHONE ( 02/ 2019)
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Decca 4834475

Code-barres / Barcode : 0289948346370


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Reviewer: Richard Wigmore

‘Vivaldi lives today thanks to Cecilia Bartoli!’ runs an accolade from Marilyn Horne in the booklet. I can imagine a crisp riposte from Naïve et al. Yet there’s no doubt that Bartoli’s ‘Vivaldi Album’ (12/99) opened many ears to the lyric beauties and dazzling vocal acrobatics in the Red Priest’s operas. Two decades on, in a vivid clutch of Vivaldi arias for sopranos and castrati, the Italian mezzocum-soprano has lost nothing of her famed agility and colouristic range, or her penchant for expressive extremes.

She sets out her stall in an aria from Argippo, where Zanaide (who she, you may ask) veers between fury and forgiveness. If you think Bartoli is going berserk in the fire-spitting opening section, just wait for the da capo. ‘Screams’ was my immediate jotting as she rockets into high soprano territory, and I don’t recant. Yet amid this unhinged emoting, she musters her most dulcet softened tone as Zanaide implores her errant husband to return.

Bartoli lives just as dangerously in a solo from Orlando furioso and an explosive, trumpet-festooned aria from Tito Manlio, unfolding reams of tense, don’t-mess-with-me coloratura – thrilling or a tad exhausting, according to taste. If her timbre can coarsen, with unnerving shifts between registers, there’s no denying her impassioned conviction. In slower, soulful arias Bartoli’s soft singing is invariably beautiful, even if she can overdo that familiar whispered confidentiality. At times I longed for more straightforward simplicity, more of her natural mezzo warmth. Yet even when one bridles at her mannerisms, she compels with her command of the long line – always a Bartoli hallmark – and her palpable emotional engagement. She is incapable of singing a routine phrase.

In lighter mode Bartoli spars delightfully with Jean-Christophe Spinosi’s violin in a capricious avian aria from La Silvia (a dramma pastorale from which only a few arias survive), and is the knowing minx to the life in a flirtatious solo from La verità in cimento. Most moving, as music and performance, is Caesar’s ravishing aria from Catone in Utica, the line exquisitely caressed over gently floated strings, the wide leaps delicately, gracefully negotiated. While there’s plenty to relish here, both for Vivaldi lovers and Bartoli aficionados, even the most diehard fan may recoil at Decca’s presentation. We get texts and translations but not a word about the arias and their context – and you’ll struggle to find information about some of the rarer items on the internet. Instead the lavishly illustrated booklet is the most blatant promotional exercise, with toe-curlingly effusive praise from all and sundry, led by that absurd Marilyn Horne hyperbole. If the overall tone of this review is a shade more negative than it might have been, blame the PR team.


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