Juan Diego Flórez

Santo

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This album of sacred vocal music sung by Juan Diego Flórez offers so many pleasures that's it's hard to know here to begin describing them. Flórez is in superb form; his clarion tenor has a youthful gleam, and he sings with purity and an intensity that's entirely unforced. It's a joy to hear him bring a subtle Italianate flair to selections from Messiah, which come across as refreshingly heroic and red-blooded. The choice of repertoire is a delight; too often the religious albums that opera stars seem required to turn out can smack of pious gravity, but Flórez's selections have a wonderful variety and are even weighted toward the lively. Some of the obligatory standards, like Franck's Panis Angelicus, Adam's Cantique de Noël, and Schubert's Ave Maria are included, and Flórez sings them with a commitment and freshness that make them sound new. The obscure and relatively obscure pieces by Fux, Rossini, and Bellini are revelations. The Bellini and Rossini are home turf for Flórez and he sings these arias with the same sparkle and wit he brings to their comic operas. Bellini's Qui sedes (Who sittest) from his Mass in A minor must be one of the very perkiest settings ever made of this section of the Credo. There isn't much evidence of any sitting going on in the music; it sounds more like brightly garbed peasants gaily frolicking around a sun-splashed village square on a feast day. Flórez includes two songs in Spanish, the Kyrie from Ariel Ramírez's Missa Criolla and Flórez's own Santo, a setting of the Sanctus that also includes sections in the Quechua language. A lovely, imaginative marriage of Western and Latin musical traditions, it's a piece with real substance and Flórez sings it with great spirit. Adeste Fideles is the only track where Flórez sounds a little too operatically over-the-top. Michele Mariotti leads the Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Comunale di Bologna in lively, nicely shaded accompaniment. Decca's sound is excellent: clean, present, and well balanced. Highly recommended.

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