Philippe Jaroussky

Caldara in Vienna: Forgotten Castrato Arias

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Countertenor Philippe Jaroussky continues to amaze with the facility of his technique in the most demanding coloratura repertoire, the intelligence and deep feeling of his musicianship, and, most especially, with the full, vibrant quality of his distinctive voice. It has lost none of its freshness since he burst onto the international scene in the last years of the 20th century, and has become a richer, stronger instrument without giving up any of its remarkable agility. A champion of neglected Baroque composers, he turns his attention to Antonio Caldara (ca. 1671-1736), a near-contemporary of Vivaldi's. Like Vivaldi, he began his career in Venice and ended it in Vienna, and Vivaldi is the composer whose music Caldara's most resembles. As renowned as Vivaldi in his lifetime and even more prolific, he fell into obscurity soon after his death and remained essentially a historical footnote until the late 20th century. Even so, there has never been a Caldara renaissance, and based on the selections recorded here, one is unlikely to be coming. The music is created with consummate skill, the text setting is idiomatic, and these opera arias demonstrate dramatic flair and have considerable charm; they could reasonably be mistaken for the work of Vivaldi on a fair-to-middling, or even good, but not a great day. These selections, presumably the most interesting that Jaroussky culled from his research, are all very fine in their own right but lack the dazzle that, in the best Vivaldi, makes the listener sit up and gasp at its unpredictable inventiveness or wit or profound emotional integrity or ravishingly limpid lyricism. It would be hard to imagine a more compelling case for this material than that made by Jaroussky and Emmanuelle Haïm, who plays harpsichord and conducts Concerto Köln. They invest this music with such life and devote such exquisite attention to its nuances that the album fully deserves the attention of fans of the Baroque or Vivaldi, or of anyone who simply cherishes hearing terrifically talented and spirited performers giving their all to music they clearly love. The album is beautifully produced and has clean, vibrant, and natural sound, with excellent balance.

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