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Orfeo(s) - Italian and French Cantatas on the theme of Orpheus
Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
Orfeo: cantata for soprano, strings and basso continuo (c.1735) [14:52]
Louis-Nicolas CLÉRAMBAULT (1676-1749)
Orphée: cantata for soprano and chamber orchestra (1710) [16:16]
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
L’Orfeo cantata a voce sola con violini (w.d.) [21:05]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Orphée: cantata for soprano and ‘symphony’ (flute and strings) (1721?) [16:59]
Sunhae Im (soprano)
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
rec. 2013/14, Teldex Studio, Berlin.
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902189 [69:21]

Since her European début fifteen years ago, Korean soprano Sunhae Im has increasingly hitched her wagon to the German Period music scene, especially in performances and recordings conducted by René Jacobs. Thus this choice for her debut solo recital album of baroque cantatas themed upon the myth of Orpheus makes perfect sense in the context of her career so far.

She has a light, crystalline, pearly voice reminiscent of her senior compatriot Sumi Jo and artists such as Barbara Bonney or Kathleen Battle. I was especially impressed by her contribution to Andreas Spering’s recording of Haydn’s “Creation” on Naxos. Her intonation is flawless and she sings in excellent French and Italian.

I only wish that were more intrinsic interest in the music itself. All four cantatas were written in the early seventeenth century — although that’s guesswork for the Scarlatti piece — by important composers. As such, they exhibit some innovative dramatic touches such as wide-ranging tessitura and daring modulation. The texts are expressively decorated and infused with a very melancholy and “high-flown” sentiment, such that Rameau’s narrator takes on a moralising tone. On the other hand, the arias themselves sound very conventional to modern ears. I could, in all honesty, have wished that the delightful Miss Im had chosen a programme with more variety; this despite the attraction of its unifying theme. Perhaps she could have given us something from the treatment of Orpheus by Monteverdi a century earlier, or by Gluck a little later in the century or even Offenbach’s sardonic take on the myth; OK, I jest. A duet or two would have leavened the lump somewhat. I found the most melodic interest in the opening aria by Pergolesi, “Euridice, e dove sei?”, with its falling, chromatic minor lament.

The soprano is accompanied by a small, skilled and alert period band of a dozen or so members plus harpsichord and organ; the flute is especially elegant.

I readily accept that other listeners will find more to divert them in this recital but as much as I admire the artists here I doubt whether I shall return soon to this disc.

Ralph Moore