Jakub Józef Orliński (countertenor)
Fatima Said (soprano)
Orchestra and Chorus of Il Pomo d’Oro/Francesco Corti
rec. September 2020, Villa San Fermo, Lonigo, Vicenza, Italy
ERATO 9029674390 [80:21]
Countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński has released a captivating new album with the title Anima Ĉterna, Latin for ‘Eternal Soul’. This is the third solo album he has released on the Erato label and it contains a programme of top-drawer performances. Once again, he is accompanied by the renowned period instrument ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro. There is a single work with a choral part, the Gennaro Manna motet sung by the chamber chorus of Il Pomo d’Oro.
I don’t know much about Orliński who graduated from the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music, Warsaw. Since 2012, he has been a member of the Opera Academy of the Grand Theatre in Warsaw and between 2015- 17 he studied at the Juilliard School, New York. In 2018 he released his debut album Anima Sacra (Sacred Soul), an award-winning collection of eleven predominantly rare, sacred baroque arias of the eighteenth-century, of which eight were previously unrecorded. In 2019 a second album Facce d'amore (Faces of love) also included several first recordings. In a change from the previous sacred theme, Facce d'amore contains sixteen operatic works, moving through the baroque era using a theme of the emotional aspects of love for romantic male characters.
This new release, Anima Ĉeterna, is devised with a plan similar to Anima Sacra. Generously filled, the album contains seven sacred baroque works with Latin or Italian texts comprising of three arias from oratorios, three motets and a single antiphon, all from around the period 1716-47. Jan Dismas Zelenka is represented by two motets and there is a work each from Johann Joseph Fux, Francisco António de Almeida, Bartolomeo Nucci, Gennaro Manna and Georg Friedrich Handel. In his introductory note, Orlinski explains that Anima Ĉeterna was ‘conceived as a continuation of Anima Sacra. It opens a kind of dialogue between the two programmes.’ Orliński has worked on his programmes with Yannis François whose research has unearthed many previously unknown manuscripts. Here, for example, François states that Bartolomeo Nucci is a composer who may not have ever had a work previously recorded and Manna’s motet is also receiving its first recording, too.
Opening the album is a motet from Jan Dismas Zelenka, a Czech composer who is becoming increasingly widely known. He is best known as a violone player with the court orchestra of 'August the Strong' Elector of Saxony in Dresden, although he never achieved the prestigious role he wanted of Kapellmeister. In three movements, the motet Barbara, dira effera is scored for alto and orchestra a setting of medieval text from The Golden Legend collection of hagiographic accounts of saints. Written around 1733 for celebrated Italian castrato Domenico Annibali, the motet has a high reputation in Zelenka’s output and for good reason. It is an outstanding work, highly dramatic for a church motet, and Orliński responds with energetic expression including coloratura, yet remains mindful of the devotional nature of the Latin text.
Zelenka’s second work is his motet Laetatus sum, a Latin setting of Psalm 122 (Vulgate 121). It is thought likely that at the motet’s premiere there were two castrati and Annibali may have been one of them. Large in scope, the six-movement motet is scored for soprano, alto and orchestra, which Orliński sings with guest soprano Fatima Said. It is a motet of contrasts: there is a meditative piety to the slow movements and elation in the concluding movement Sicut erat. Quite outstandingly sung, Orliński’s duets with Fatima Said display a sense of sacred inspiration, especially the Gloria, an Adagio with accompaniment from the continuo section comprising of harpsichord, cello, theorbo and double bass.
Next comes Austrian Johann Joseph Fux, who began as a court composer progressing to Hofkapellmeister for Emperor Leopold I. Fux’s aria Non t'amo per il ciel (Il peccator contrito), from his sepolcro oratorio (a type of passion play combined with an oratorio) Il Fonte della salute of 1716, includes a part for obbligato paridon (barydon). This is a glorious aria with a devout Italian text in which Orliński demonstrates a delightful meditative tone. Francisco António de Almeida was a Portuguese composer who studied in Rome and later returned to his homeland. He is represented by Ozia’s aria Giusto Dio from his oratorio La Giuditta. In Giusto Dio, Yannis François sees similarities to the laments of Alessandro Scarlatti. This is an affecting sacred aria with an Italian text; Orliński gives an absorbing performance of it, singing beautifully.
Little is known of Bartolomeo Nucci, who is thought to have originated from Pescia in Italy. Nucci’s aria Un giusto furore che m'arde nel core is from his oratorio Il Davide trionfante. Orliński’s glorious singing of this inspirational Italian text, together with a prominent trumpet part, make quite an impact. Naples-based Gennaro Manna was a highly regarded composer who wrote a number of operas and oratorios. I have noticed in other recordings that he wrote stage works for the star Italian castrato of the day known as Caffarelli. Featured here is a fitting example of Manna’s sacred works with his Laudate pueri a five movement Latin motet for alto, chorus and orchestra. This is the single work on the album that has the participation of Il Pomo d’Oro chorus which is fifteen strong here. It’s a delight to hear Manna’s Laudate pueri for the first time and especially memorable are the Gloria. Orliński gives an immaculate rendition of elevated devotion and the chorus make a radiant contribution to the closing section Sicut erat in principio - Amen.
The final work on the album is by Handel, who is celebrated for his numerous dramatic works, notably his operas and oratorios, many on sacred subjects yet not regarded as sacred works as they were intended for the stage not the church. Handel did compose a body of sacred choral works though they were seldom the centrepiece of his attention. Here, Handel is represented by a single, rather short work, the Antiphon in D minor - Alleluja! Amen!, HWV 269 (c. 1747). Part of a series of Antiphons written mainly for soprano voice, this Antiphon is the sole example of his writing for the lower voice and solo organ accompaniment, played by Francesco Corti. They give a memorable performance of this sacred Latin work, which I don’t recall having heard previously.
Orliński’s voice possesses a most appealing, rather sweet tone, to which I can repeatedly and at length listen, unlike a number of other countertenors whose voices can soon become wearying. He sounds to me more like a rich-toned alto than a bright soprano. Revealing remarkable breath control, he also displays an impressive fluidity and a vocal range that surprised me by its breadth. His cultivated coloratura is not too excessive or extravagant. Overall, his exceptional technique is surpassed only by his expressivity.
Founded in 2012, Il Pomo d’Oro is usually directed by its chief conductor Maxim Emelyanychev.
On this recording it comprises twenty-eight players and is directed by its principal guest conductor Francesco Corti who also plays the harpsicord in one movement and the organ on another. Within its compass of historical performance practice, Il Pomo d’Oro responds to Orliński’s programme with accomplished playing of integrity and considerable insight. From start to finish, the performances are hard to fault, and the tone of the period instruments has been caught at their finest.
The sound is first class. In the valuable accompanying booklet, Orliński has provided an introductory note and Yannis François has written the highly informative essay. Furthermore, I am delighted to report that Erato has provided the sung texts and English translations.
Jakub Józef Orliński is one of the finest countertenors I have encountered since the prime years of the outstanding Andreas Scholl, David Daniels and, more recently, Philippe Jaroussky. Orliński can be justly proud of Anima Ĉterna, an album deserving of praise.
Jan Dismas ZELENKA (1679-1745)
1-3. Barbara, dira effera, motet for alto & orchestra, ZWV 164 (c. 1733) [15:28]
Johann Joseph FUX (1660-1741)
From oratorio Il Fonte della salute, K. 293 (1716)
4. Aria: Non t'amo per il ciel [8:30]
Jan Dismas ZELENKA
5-10. Laetatus sum, motet for soprano, alto & orchestra, ZWV 90 [20:58]
Francisco António de ALMEIDA (1702-1755)
From oratorio La Giuditta:
11. Aria: Giusto Dio [7:45]
Bartolomeo NUCCI (c. 1717- c.1749)
From oratorio Il Davide trionfante:
12. Aria: Un giusto furore che m'arde nel core* [5:52]
Gennaro MANNA (1715-1779)
13-17. Laudate pueri, motet for alto, choir & orchestra* [17:05]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Antiphon in D minor, HWV 269 (c. 1747):
18. Alleluja, Amen [4:33]
World premiere recordings*
Fatima Said, soprano (5-7, 9-10)
Il Pomo d’Oro / Francesco Corti (direction): harpsichord (9) - organ (18)
Ludovico Minasi, cello - (7, 9)
Riccardo Coelati Rama, double bass - (9)
Miguel Rincón, theorbo - (9)