It has been awhile since CD consumers have heard from the great Korean coloratura soprano Sumi Jo, who has been out of the record market but maintaining a busy concert schedule, particularly in Asia and Europe. Baroque Journey is Jo's full-length foray into Baroque repertoire, although some of her previous albums have contained material culled from the Baroque, particularly La Promessa (1998), The Christmas Album (1999), and Prayers (2000), so she is hardly a stranger to the medium of the Baroque aria. Partnered by the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra under Henk Rubingh, though accompanied only by anonymous lutenist on Purcell's Music for a while, these recordings were made in late 2005 in Hilversum, but are only making their way out in late 2007. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since Prayers; Jo's old label, Erato, has disappeared from view and Atlantic Classics, which used to administer it, is gone, too, reorganized as Warner Classics & Jazz. In a way, Jo is lucky that the successor firm is continuing to release her recordings, though in another way the label is lucky to have maintained the professional interest and attention of such a superlative singer. Does one balance the other?
For her part, Jo sounds splendid on this whole recording, even in the ultra-difficult Vivaldi aria "Agitata da due venti" from the opera Griselda, nailed by labelmate Angelina Reaux in its equivalent version from the opera Bajazet in Fabio Biondi's set of that work for Virgin Classics. Here, and only here, Jo opts for some shortcuts, and no one can blame her. However, in less explosive fare is where one will find Jo in her element, particularly in her reading of Stölzel's "Bist du bei mir," which Jo picked for the project despite that it's a sacred solo aria and thus a little off the beaten path of her "journey." Annotator Kenneth Chalmers refers to it as an "interloper," but it may well be the best thing on the album.
The accompaniment under Rubingh is underpowered; one might surmise that the band is merely attempting not to step on the soloist's toes, although inefficient direction or sheer boredom might also be at fault, as the instrumental group is far less than sharp and seems to be going through the motions rather than supporting, and being responsive to, Jo. The recording is likewise sub par; it is rather quiet and distant, whereas in Baroque literature accompanied by chamber groups some degree of intimacy is always a plus. However, the listener might be so glad to see Sumi Jo recording again that one would be inclined to set such matters aside and enjoy her glorious voice.