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The 5 Countertenors
Niccolò JOMMELLI (1714-1774)
Tito Manlio: Spezza lo stral piagato (1746, second version) [7:42]
Nicola PORPORA (1686-1768)
Ifigenia in Aulide: O di spietati numi (1735) [6:12]
Baldassare GALUPPI (1706-1785)
Penelope: A questa Bianca mano (1741) [8:43]
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Serse; Crude furie degl’orridi abissi [3:37]
Agrippina; Otton, Otton…Voi che udite il mio lamneto [6:11]
Josef MYSLIVEČEK (1737-1781)
Farnace; Ti parli in seno amore [7:48]
Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782)
Temistocle: Ch’io parta? [5:12]
Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
Demetrio: Non so frenare il pianto (1742) [8:59]
Ferdinando BERTONI (1725-1813)
Tancredi: Addio, o meii sospiri! [4:22]
Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783)
Piramo e Tisbe: Ah, non è ver, ben mio [5:01]
Yuriy Mynenko, Xavier Sabata, Max Emanuel Cencic, Valer Sabadus and Vince Yi (counter-tenors)
Armonia Atenea/George Petrou
rec. 2013, Dimitris Mitropoulos Hall, Megaron, Athens Concert Hall
texts and translations included
DECCA 478 8094 [63:46]

Whilst Three Tenors sounds palatable, Five Countertenors sounds more like a threat. One can’t quite imagine Alfred Deller teaming up with a quartet of like-voiced colleagues to form an imposing quintet – and, to be fair, the title is something of a gimmick if you imagine that the countertenors sing together. In fact it’s two arias each and strictly solo at that. No duets, certainly no arrangements for countertenor quintet. That really would be something – though not necessarily an attractive something.

It’s Max Emanuel Cencic, pictured centrally on the cover of the booklet, who is the most well-known of the five. They’re all cutely dressed in identical white gear by the way – a bit of a slick ploy, but records are there to be sold, after all.

The repertoire is, however, worthwhile and any disc that ranges from Porpora to Ferdinando Bertoni by way of Galuppi, J C Bach, Mysliveček and – naturally - Handel and Gluck can’t be taken for granted. Valer Sabadus takes on Niccolo Jommelli’s Spezza lo stral piagato – rare repertory and a rather more obscure composer - and this gives the opportunity for some typically florid Venetian divisions. George Petrou gets his band Armonia Atenea to dig into the strings with juddering incision to support him, even when his tone thins a touch at the top. In fact the orchestra is a source of constant pleasure throughout the recital – infectiously bracing, rhythmically vital, and full of colour and nuance.

Sabadus is possibly the youngest of the five whereas Xavier Sabata has a thicker, older-sounding voice; it has a certain flabby quality to it, as well, especially in the Porpora recitative and the vocal breaks in Handel’s Agrippina aria are noticeable. Cencic naturally offers another perspective on the countertenor voice, whose virtuosic purity and crystalline precision offers a master-class in vocal athleticism in Bertoni’s Addio, o miei sospiri! – though not so much in the slow and intense Galuppi aria, where sheer phrasal musicality is the focus. Yuriy Myenko takes Handel’s Serse aria – a decent, quite emotive reading going down the chest voice a little uncomfortably but he is again fortunate to have the thwacking, combustible band’s support. In J C Bach’s Ch’io parta? he proves virile but somewhat monochromatic, and there’s too much of the gun metal in the voice. As recorded Vince Yi has the smallest of the five voices but it’s a pleasure to hear the elegantly worked aria from Mysliveček’s Farance. He proves to be ‘pipy’ in Hasse. Strangely the aria from Gluck’s Demetrio is a bit dull – or maybe Sabadus doesn’t make enough of it, or possibly both.

There’s fine sound quality, rather thinnish notes, but full texts and translations. No artist biographies. This is really for counter-tenor specialists, I’d have thought. The repertoire is astutely chosen but the singing is inconsistent and the spread of voices does sometimes bring the unworthy thought that, good though it is to hear younger or other voices on disc, you’d prefer to hear Cencic sing everything.

Jonathan Woolf



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