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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Franco Fagioli (countertenor)
Il Pomo d'Oro
rec. 2017, Sala Rossa, Villa San Fermo, Lonigo, Italy
Full sung texts with English translations in booklet
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 7541 [79:43]

Franco Fagioli is the first countertenor to sign exclusively with Deutsche Grammophon. The first fruits of this relationship were exceptional. I admired his 2016 solo album, a collection of Rossini opera arias from the age of bel canto (review). In his second album for the yellow label, the Argentine has turned his attention to the music of Handel: a collection of fourteen castrato arias from nine operas, a broad range of the composer’s output. Fagioli has sung many Handel operas on stage, but this is his first album of arias. His criterion for his programme is “the feeling of goose pimples, the aria that really speaks to me, the aria that means something to me”.

Handel wrote forty-two operas, containing arias with specific castratos in mind: Nicolini, Caffarelli, Carestini, and notably Senesino for whom he created seventeen roles including Giulio Cesare and Rodelinda. In this collection, carefully chosen from the castrato roles, one senses that Fagioli is performing with felicitous sincerity and often a high level of intimacy. In Cara sposa, amante cara from Rinaldo, Fagioli aptly conveys the hero’s sadness and desolation after sorceress Armida abducted his fiancée Almirena. In Rinaldo’s lament Fagioli is eminently tender, singing with a rare purity. In the aria Scherza infida from Ariodante, Fagioli as Prince Ariodante sings with a heartfelt sincerity; the hero thinks that his sweetheart has betrayed him, and Fagioli expresses his sorrow and true despair. The enduringly popular aria Ombra mai fu from Serse (Xerxes) portrays King Serse in an uncommon love song showing his appreciation for the shade given by a plane tree. Fagioli renders it stunningly, with a notable ease. Highly virtuosic, Rinaldo’s bravura aria Venti, turbini, prestate from Serse is a personal highlight. Here Fagioli provides an abundance of fiery boldness as the hero who plots his revenge as he summons the power of winds. The final track, Arsace’s understated aria Ch’io parta? Si, crudele from Partenope is simply gloriously performed by Fagioli, intensely affecting. Remarkably, Fagioli can slide or float through his surprisingly broad range. He travels comfortably from the low notes of his chest register to his upper soprano register. The countertenor’s well controlled ornamentation is striking, agreeable on the ear and pleasingly varied. This is agilely demonstrated in Agitato da fiere tempeste from Oreste and Si in fiorito, ameno prato from Giulio Cesare.

Il Pomo d'Oro play on period instruments. Directed from the baroque violin by concertmaster Zefira Valova, they are on exceptional form. Seventeen strong, the fresh and lean playing is blended with striking accomplishment, making every note count. Admirably recorded, the sound has pleasing clarity and balance. I am delighted that full sung texts with English translations are provided in the booklet, and the essay ‘Baroque Snapshots’ written by Katherina Knees is reasonably informative.

Franco Fagioli excels in a varied collection of Handel castrato arias. The disc deserves to be included in any collection of Baroque music.

Michael Cookson
Oreste, HWV A11
1. Agitato da fiere tempeste [4:24]
Serse, HWV 40
2. Frondi tenere [0:47]
3. Ombra mai fu [3:25]
4. Crude furie degli orridi abissi [3:55]
Rinaldo, HWV 7a
5. Cara sposa, amante cara [8:49]
6. Venti, turbini, prestate [4:06]
Imeneo, HWV 41
7. Se potessero i sospir' miei [6:48]
Il pastor fido, HWV 8a
8. Sento brillar nel sen [6:46]
Rodelinda, HWV 19
9. Pompe vane di morte [2:53]
10. Dove sei amato bene [6:20]
Giulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17
11. Se in fiorito ameno prato [8:41]
Ariodante, HWV 33
12. Scherza infida, in grembo al drudo [11:14]
13. Dopo notte, altra e funesta [7:29]
Partenope, HWV 27
14. Ch'io parta? [4:15]


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