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GRAMOPHONE (07/2002)
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Harmonia Mundi
HMG 501778

Code-barres / Barcode: 0794881851928

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Reviewer: Jonathan Freeman-Attwood




An understandable temptation is to envisage the sound of a castrato merely alongside a present-day countertenor or a mezzo (one, that is, not attempting to imitate the strains of a castrato) or to synthesise various timbres into something distinctly artificial, as in the 1994 Farinelli film. Even 'au naturel', Genaux is still presented with a difficult dilemma. Some arias all of which are significant 'scenas' - allow her more successfully than others to pursue the extremes of strident projection, fireworks and alluring lyricism which so titillated and moved Farinelli's audiences. Yet Giacomelli's celebrated Mletastasian aria from Adriano in Siria leaves too much to the imagination and her instincts impel her to revert to a natural 'womanly' timbre. This is not a fault exactly because the project does not stand or fall on a parity of vocal timbre between Farinelli and Genaux, but there are other arias here which encourage Genaux rather more to imagine herself as Farinelli the artist and to evoke in long-breathed lines the nobility of sound and open-throated messa di voce which inspired Riccardo Broschi to compose his delectable 'Ombra fedele' for his brother.


This is true also in the famous follow-up aria, 'Qual guerriero', where even if Genaux's passagios are not absolutely flawless, the virtuoso coloratura art is pushed thrillingly to the limits. Even more successful are the two arias from Hasse's Artaserse (the first actually written by Porpora and added in later productions), the latter of which enables us to get closer still to the beguiling other-worldliness of Farinelli.


Supported by two excellent booklet essays by Reinhard Strohm and René Jacobs, not least in their sympathetic handling of Farinelli's unique circumstances, this project is certainly original and accomplished. Genaux more than fits the bill (she is often outstanding) but I am left feeling in my heart-of-hearts that everything she does, Farinelli probably would have done better: more contrast, more artifice, a vocal apparatus which would (have) intensified everything ten-fold and never immured his profound musicianship for which he was universally fêted as little short of a god.

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