Nisi Dominus RV 608 , Concerto in
F for strings RV 141, Clarae stellae, scintillate, RV 625,
Concert in C for strings RV 109, Vestro Principi Divino, RV 633, Salve
Regina, RV 616.
Andreas Scholl (countertenor)
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Paul Dyer.
DECCA 466 964
- 2 (DDD)
Andreas Scholl is a very fine countertenor with a beautiful voice and secure
intonation and at one with the music he performs. His is a rare talent. He
has marvellous skills of interpretation. To quote but one example the fourth
section of Nisi Dominus, He giveth His beloved sleep is absolutely
But not everybody likes countertenors. They do not have the depth of voice
of a contralto or a mezzo and, often , the
orchestra has to hold back so as not to swamp the voice. Therefore the music
This does not detract from Scholl's marvellous voice and skill. He is a complete
musician. He has unequalled artistry. But his type of voice is limited and
therefore disappointing to many listeners.
I am one of many who is always disappointed if the '
contralto arias' in Handel's Messiah are sung by countertenors.
I have known them perform the bass aria Why do the nations rage? which
is, without doubt, an incomprehensible absurdity. It is an aria that needs
power and for the orchestra part not to be suppressed. Even good countertenors
lack the strength and depth of voice and, as a result, their voice becomes
Lovely as Scholl's voice is, even his becomes much of a muchness and this
is why two short Concertos are interpolated on this disc but they are so
slight and short that they serve no real purpose.
Nisi Dominus is a setting of the Vesper psalm Except the Lord build
the House they labour in vain that build it. It is in nine short sections
lasting about 20 minutes. The music is not outstanding and there is not enough
drive from the orchestra which consists of period instruments. Would there
have been a better drive if modem instruments were used and, had that been
the case, would the engineers have problems with balancing the voice?
The Concerto in F lasts four and a half minutes and has reminded me
of yet another prejudice in music. I remember many reviewers and musicians
saying that Webern's clever Concerto for Nine Instruments could not
be a concerto as it only lasts 7 minutes!
Vivaldi's is four and a half and is pretty tame and some of this is due to
the performance. This type of music needs life and energy. Here it is a corpse.
Clarae stellae, scintillate is a motet written for a contralto, Geltruda,
who was born in 1684. Today motets are usually for choirs. It was written
for the Feast of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary. It is attractive in parts
but it works far better with a full-blooded contralto.
The Concerto in C is another miniature but this time plays for just
under five and a half minutes! Again, I want more life in my Vivaldi. These
performances are dull! I was now completely bored!
Vestro Principi Divino also employs a dance-like movement. In the
second aria this secular style is used which ridicules the already ridiculous
0 happy guilt, 0 blessed guilt!
I have never understood why baroque writers and composers, and others, rejoice
in sinfulness, shame and guilt. Even the great Handel does it in Messiah
in the aria All we like sheep have gone astray and they are so
happy about it!
The Salve Regina R V 616 is the best piece on the disc. The fact that
the orchestral parts do not rely on strings alone is one asset and also because
the music has some drama in it.
But the problem remains.
The recording has gone to the trouble of authenticity for the instruments
and yet they miss out on the authenticity in the vocal line. These pieces
were not written for a countertenor and, quite frankly they do not work and
Vivaldi is the loser and that is not fair. This voice is very limited. It
lacks the wide range of colour that all other voices have. And this is one
reason why this disc is dull. I will remain faithful to the performances
by Teresa Berganza. Far superior!
And yet Scholl is magnificent. He really is.
I cannot award any assessments for the performances or recordings. It is
like the situation when one is asked a question and the answer is neither
yes or no.