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"Anima Aeterna"

Jakub Józef Orlinski, alto; Fatma Said, sopranoa
Orchestra and Choir Il Pomo d'Oro
Dir: Francesco Corti

rec: Nov 15 - 23, 2020, Lonigo (Vicenza), Villa San Fermo
Erato - 0190296743900 (© 2021) (80'21")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Francisco António DE ALMEIDA (1702-1755): La Giuditta (Giusto Dio); Johann Joseph FUX (1660-1741): Il Fonte delle salute, aperto della grazia nel Calvario (K 293) (Non t'amo per il ciel); George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Amen, Alleluia No. 9 in d minor (HWV 269); Gennaro MANNA (1715-1779): Laudate pueri; Bartolomeo NUCCI (fl 1717-1749): Il David trionfante (Un giusto furore che m'arde nel core); Jan Dismas ZELENKA (1679-1745): Barbara, dira, effera (ZWV 164); Laetatus sum (ZWV 90)a

[choir] Elena Bertuzzi, Nadia Caristi, Alice Fraccari, Laura Fabris, Marta Redaelli, Eugenia Corrieri, soprano; Elena Biscuola, Giulia Beatini, Marta Fumagalli, contralto; Giovanni Cantarini, Livio Cavallo, Giuseppe Maletto, tenor; Marco Scavazza, Matteo Bellotto, Dario Previato, bass
[orchestra] Marcello Gatti, Silvia Pighi, transverse flute; Emmanuel Laporte, Michele Antonello, oboe; Daniele Bolzonella, Giovanni Catania, horn; Gabriele Cassone, trumpet; Zefira Valova, Dimitri Lepekhov, Lucia Giraudo, Daniela Nuzzoli, Mauro Spinazzè, Stefano Rossi, Elena Abbati, Petra Samhaber-Eckhardt, Veronica Böhm, violin; Valerio Losito, Maria Bocelli, Giulio D'Alessio, viola; Ludovico Minasi, Cristina Vidoni, cello; Riccardo Coelati Rama, double bass; Patxi Montero, baryton; Miguel Rincón, theorbo; Francesco Corti, harpsichord; Daniel Perer, harpsichord, organ

Jakub Józef Orlinski seems to be one of the most celebrated male altos of our time. The fact that Erato has taken him under contract, is telling. In the light of this it is remarkable that he does not focus entirely on the kind of repertoire that many of his colleagues are so fond of: the famous arias from operas by the likes of Handel and Vivaldi. His debut album, Anima Sacra (2018) - which has never crossed my path - was not only devoted to sacred music, but also included mostly pieces that were little-known, if at all. The same can be said of the disc under review here, which is strictly speaking not a sequel, but - according to Yannis François, who did the research for this programme, in his liner-notes - "a parallel journey".

The Bohemian-born composer Jan Dismas Zelenka, who worked for most of his life at the court in Dresden, figures prominently in the programme. He is a well-known figure from the time of Johann Sebastian Bach, with whom he has much in common, especially his preference for counterpoint, and who also earned the admiration of the Leipzig Thomaskantor. However, only a small part of his oeuvre is really well-known: his six sonatas for oboes and bassoon, some orchestral works, his Lamentations and some of his late masses. Here we get a solo motet and a Vesper psalm, and whereas the former has been recorded a few times before, Laetatus sum is one of a substantial number of Vesper psalms that are seldom performed. It is a duet for soprano and alto, which was very likely written for singers from a group of castratos which arrived in Dresden to participate in opera performances. The solos are quite operatic in nature. In his aria the alto is accompanied by two transverse flutes, which indicates that Zelenka was willing to link up with the galant fashion of his time, in which the flute was highly revered. The disc opens with Zelenka's motet Barbara, dira, effera, a motetto pro resurrectionis Domini. It begins with a long aria, with an obbligato part for bassoon. It has the form of an operatic rage aria, marked allegro assai, e sempre fiero, in which the Jews are castigated for their treatment of Jesus. It is written in dacapo form, but the first section itself comprises two sections. In the second the word "horrida" (savage) is singled out: the tempo slows down and it is followed by a pause. A short recitative leads attacca to the closing 'Alleluja'.

Johann Joseph Fux is another composer who is well-known by name, but whose music is seldom performed. It is only recently that his oeuvre is receiving serious attention. Recently I reviewed a disc with arias from operas and oratorios (link). One of the features of his vocal oeuvre is the participation of unusual instruments, which are given obbligato parts. That is also the case in the wonderful aria 'Non t'amo per il ciel' from the oratorio Il Fonte delle salute, which was first performed at Good Friday 1716 in Vienna, where Fux worked as Hofkapellmeister from 1715 until his death. In this aria of a repentent sinner, the soloist is accompanied by a baryton and a theorbo.

The aria 'Giusto Dio' from the oratorio La Giuditta by the Portuguese composer Francisco António de Almeida is in the same vein. It is a prayer to God, which explains its intimate character: "God of righteousness, may it please you to deliver my people from the ravages of pernicious fate". René Jacobs made a recording of this oratorio (Harmonia mundi, 1992), but that has not resulted in a substantial interest in Almeida's oeuvre. He shares his fate with other representatives of the Portuguese baroque period, for that matter. This particular aria attests to Almeida's compositional skills.

Very different is then 'Un giusto furore' from the oratorio Il David trionfante by Bartolomeo Nucci. The composer is an entirely unknown quantity, and has no entry in New Grove. Yannis François assumes this is the first piece by Nucci ever to be recorded, and I am pretty sure that he is right. He found cantatas ans oratorios by this master in California, of all places. Let's hope more of his oeuvre is going to be performed and recorded. This piece, another specimen of a rage aria, makes curious about the rest of his oeuvre. The text - "A righteous fury burning within my heart summons me to fight" - explains the participation of a trumpet in an obbligato role.

Gennaro Manna is another composer who is not that well known, although he is represented on several discs. He was one of many opera composers who worked in Naples, but his oeuvre also includes a considerable number of sacred works. It is especially his music for Holy Week that has been recorded. Laudate pueri is one of the Vesper psalms, and it has here the uncommon scoring for alto solo and choir. The latter mostly repeats the lines that the soloist has sung. It is quite an interesting and musically compelling piece, and a valuable addition to the Vesper repertoire.

It is remarkable that this disc ends in an intimate manner, with a piece for solo voice and basso continuo by George Frideric Handel. It is one of eight settings of the same text: "Amen! Alleluia!". It is not known why Handel has written them. It has been suggested that they had a pedagogical purpose, as a kind of solfeggi, as so many were written during the 18th century. On the other hand, their technical requirements make them rather unsuitable for beginners. They are also of much greater musical interest than most solfeggi of the time. Moreover, they were unsuitable for the Anglican liturgy. Maybe they were written (as a commission?) for (secret) Catholic worship.

It may well be an indication of Orlinski's approach to music that he closes his programme with such a piece. I already indicated that he seems to like to avoid the trodden paths. This disc is an impressive testimony of that. I also greatly appreciate the way he performs the pieces that were selected. He does not hold back in the operatic items; the opening aria from Zelenka's motet is more exuberant than Alex Potter's performance, and he pulls all the stops in Nucci's aria. But he also sings with wonderful subtlety in the arias by Fux and Almeida and his performance of Handel's Amen! Alleluia!' is a fine example of the sincerity of his interpretation and his breath control ad well as his sense of style. I also like the way he sings the lowest notes: he is able and not afraid to turn to his chest register, because of which they come off well. Fatma Said is a perfect match in Zelenka's Laetatus sum; the two voices blend very well. The orchestra is Orlinski's perfect partner and adapts admirably to the character of each piece.

In short, this is a very fine disc, which impressively demonstrates Orlinski's qualities. I hope he continues his exploration of the world of the unknown.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Jakub Józef Orlinski
Fatma Said
Il Pomo d'Oro

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