Arias from Orlando finto pazzo; Giustino; Ottone in Villa; L'Olimpiade; Tito Manlio; Andromeda Liberata; Demofoonte; Il tigrane; Orlando Furioso; Farnace
Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor)
Earlier in his career, Philippe Jaroussky was billed as a "male soprano" and it is easy to hear why: his voice is remarkably feminine. "Heroes" is the name of the CD, but many of the arias were composed for women; make of that what you will. The point is that this CD, presuming you are not allergic to this very high male voice now billed as "countertenor", is one of great beauty and possibly even greater artistic merit.
Jaroussky may be lacking the potency and darkness of Andreas Scholl and the pure sensuality of David Daniels, but the sound itself is of such rare beauty, the technique so phenomenal, the involvement so thorough, that he leaves the listener stunned. It isn't merely his astonishing fluency with rapid divisions, his dead-center pitch throughout his range and at all dynamic levels, his intelligence in creating a character or situation, or his ease with such feats as a flawless messa di voce that impresses. It is how wisely he uses his resources to make the music breathe and live.
For an instant grand impression you could begin at the CD's start, with a bravura piece from Orlando finto pazzo that exhibits rapid-fire coloratura, rhythmic precision, and Jaroussky's fine taste in embellishing the vocal line. But the languid, gentle lullaby "Mentre dormi amor fomenti" from L'Olimpiade (with its strings imitating the "gentle breeze" of the text) will simply knock you out. Jaroussky weaves a ravishing melody with a tone as hypnotically lovely and breath control as easy as you are likely to hear anywhere. Sheer beauty like this is very rare indeed.
In "Frema pur...", from Ottone in Villa, his voice dips into baritone range but he never pushes; the tone is low, but not dark, chest voice. A total bravura aria like "Fra le procelle" from Tito Manlio (another storm-tossed metaphor) is thrown off with enough abandon to make the listener gasp.
This recital wouldn't be as successful if conductor Jean-Christophe Spinosi and his Ensemble Matheus were not also of the same musical mind. Spinosi plays violin here, and his obbligato in the aria from Andromeda Liberata turns the piece into a glorious duet. The Ensemble's playing is precise, warm, and dramatically involved. This is a must for those who love great singing and playing--and of course, for Baroque opera enthusiasts. [10/9/2007]