The American tenor Karim Sulayman, of Lebanese background, has previously been heard on recordings with the Cleveland-based historical-performance group Apollo's Fire. He is backed by members of that group here in his solo debut, with the larger Apollo's Fire heard on the instrumental sonatas distributed through the program. Those point to the real strength of this release. Sulayman has a wonderfully resonant voice, and he contributes, in his singing and in an elegant note, a sense of personal involvement with the story of Orpheus, mythology's most famous vocalist. A collection of 17th century pieces related to Orpheus, a story intimately entwined with the development of opera, was a good idea in itself, but where Sulayman really excels is in forging a little "I love you to hell and back" narrative to tie together these pieces by Monteverdi, Giulio Caccini, Dario Castello, Giovanni Paulo Cima, Sigismondo d'India, Stefano Landi, Antonio Brunelli, and Tarquinio Merula. Some of the instrumental sonatas are quite unusual, and all relate vividly to the stage of the story under discussion. Sample Castello's Sonata No. 2 in D minor, proceeding into Sulayman's rendition of Tu se' morta from Orfeo. (An audience of the 17th century, one suspects, would have loved both the idea and its execution by Sulayman, who manages to produce a big yet intimate sound. The engineering loses some of that intimacy; the suburban Cleveland church where the music was recorded is wrong for the repertory. But this a fine early Baroque vocal release from the American Midwest, where early music is still not a terribly common find.
Songs of Orpheus Review
by James Manheim