Those who have heard the sparkling-clear Baroque historical-performance releases by conductor Masaaki Suzuki and might be expecting something similar from this release are going to be surprised by this somewhat bizarre disc. The program consists of sacred and secular music by Antonio Vivaldi along with a large psalm setting by his contemporary Benedetto Marcello, all of it for solo contralto and Baroque orchestra. But the central focus is contralto Keiko Kashima. The prospective buyer should if at all possible sample her voice, which may be found either striking or bizarre. Listeners might mistake her for a countertenor at first, for her voice has that kind of power. In the fiery arpeggios and scales of the Vivaldi pieces she gathers power dramatically as she approaches the phrase-ending high notes, and the recitatives pack an emotional punch. To this power she adds an unusual ingredient of melancholy, partly generated by a unique way of singing scalar material: although there is a good deal of vibrato in her voice, she lingers on scale pitches in a strangely halting way. There is a raw quality to the whole performance whose reception will be very much a matter of taste. The chief stumbling block for many hearers will be Kashima's treatment of pitch, which is idiosyncratic although consistent within its own world. The tops of arpeggios come in on the flat side of the pitch, and in general the energy of the line trumps accuracy of pitch. The small group of Japanese historical performers provides a smooth backdrop, basically getting out of Kashima's way. The performance can be almost grating, but it also grows on you and is hard to get out of your head after it's over; it gives the impression of something that might be very powerful if heard in person, but audio buyers should be sure they know what they're getting into. Texts are in Italian and Japanese; booklet notes are in Japanese only.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Invicti, bellate, solo motet for voice, strings & continuo in G major, RV 628|
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|Volgi, mio Dio, psalm setting for alto, 2 violas & continuo (Estro-poetico-armonico, IV), SF. 621|