Review by: Robert Levine
Artistic Quality: 10
Sound Quality: 10
Twenty years after Cecilia Bartoli’s groundbreaking exploratory CD of arias from heretofore unknown or little known opera by Vivaldi comes another batch of gems by the Red Priest, putting away forever the blessing/curse that has been his Four Seasons. The earlier CD cemented Bartoli’s rep as one of the great vocal virtuosos of our (and maybe all) time and as an excellent, curious musical archaeologist. The earlier CD contained a preponderance of fast, even breakneck pieces that stunned the listener one after the other. This new CD, while hardly short of dazzle, allows more time to reflective pieces.
The opening woman-scorned aria from Agrippa, however, certainly can scare the horses. Great leaps, unexpected staccato, and the text spat out like venom make their mark—Bartoli still has it, and more—and the introspective, slow middle section is sung with flawless legato and a tone as creamy as the A section was full of acid. Her emotional range in this four minutes is remarkable.
“Quell’augellin che canta” from La Silvia is one of those bird-imitating arias that can easily irritate, but it does anything but as Bartoli sings it—not only is it perfectly pitched, the mezzo seems to know how empty it is and relishes the simple joy of singing. The gorgeous nine-minute love song “Se mai senti spirarti sul volto” from Catone in Utica is sung gently, on the breath, with strings seemingly floating in air—ravishing. An equally long and hypnotic scena from Andromeda Liberata is an object lesson in tonal purity, legato, and small details—almost all pianissimo—with flawlessly placed mini-trills, long-breathed lines, and dynamic control. “Solo quella guancia bella” from La verita in cimento is girlish and playful, and Bartoli uses her lighter, more soprano-like tone—an amazing piece of coloring as compared with the chocolate of the Andromeda aria.
And so goes each selection: a new surprise, a new whole work, a piece of perfect singing and characterization. Bartoli appears not to be slowing down or weakening; the tonal luster, the center of the voice, the agility, the charisma remain. And Jean-Christophe Spinosi and his Ensemble Matheus are her equals in every way, not just in accuracy and beauty of tone and execution, but in thoughtfulness. A superb release; a must.
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- VIVALDI, ANTONIO:Arias from Argippa, Orlando Furioso Il Giustino, La Silvia, Ottone in Villa, La verita in cimento, Andromeda Liberatat, Tito Manilo, & Catone in Utica
- Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo-soprano)
Ensemble Matheus, Jean-Christophe Spinosi
- Decca - 4834475