New countertenor sings Hasse – style and substance

Review by: Robert Levine


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

The countertenor tree continues to blossom, and it has borne a new, versatile, high-placed voice in the person of a 26-year-old Romanian named Valer Barna-Sabadus. Gazing out at us on the CD cover from brown eyes, one of which is covered gingerly by falling hair, it more than suggests coyness; in fact, he is anything but. He flaunts his bright, brilliant tone, his fluency in very fast runs, and his exquisite legato. He claims, in the notes accompanying the CD, that Hasse’s music combines “Handelian drama and the instrumental virtuosity of Vivaldi,” and this strikes me as a fine observation. Hasse was revered during his lifetime, composing more than 50 operas that the public clamored for; a great deal of his music was composed for his wife Faustina Bordoni and the castrato Farinelli. He was as well known for his lovely melodies as for his showier pieces.

For an ideal example of the former—and for Barna-Sabadus’ ravishing tone and attention to line—go to track 5, the final aria of Didone abbandonata. At more than 11 minutes, you may suspect it of trying the patience; but it has a beautiful vocal line, accompanied by pizzicato strings, etched with such sensitivity through a long A section, a finely contrasting B, and a graciously decorated da capo that we are mesmerized. And it comes on the heels of a trill-filled, multi-octave display. All of the music presented here is worthy and radiantly performed, not only by our soloist, but by the 19-piece Hofkapelle München, sometimes stripped down to strings and at others with horns, bassoons, and oboes. Michael Hofstetter is the very able conductor. This is a superb disc for lovers of the high Baroque and beginnings of bel canto, not to mention countertenor singing.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: n/a

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