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George Frideric Handel: Tenor Baroque Arias from Tamerlano, Rodelinda, regina de’ Longobardi, Serse, Ariodante, La Resurrezione

Rolando Villazón (Tenor), Rebecca Bottone (Soprano), Jean Gadoullet (Counter Tenor), Christopher Suckling (Cello), Robert Howarth (Harpsichord), Paul McCreesh (Conductor), Gabrieli Players (Orchestra/Ensemble)
Recording: London, All Saints’, Tooting (4-5/2008) – 59’ 26
Deutsche Grammophon # B0012574-02 – Booklet in English with original Italian texts and English translations

Rolando Villazón launched into international stardom as one of the most sought after voices in decades after receiving numerous awards in 1999 during Plácido Domingo’s famed “Operalia” competition. His fecund years of recent recordings, in partnership with Deutsche Grammophon, has added another level of sophistication to the classical music genre. While best known for singing leading operatic roles in the 19th and early 20th centuries during the Romantic period, it comes as a surprise to see the successful tenor take on yet another new dimension. This time he throws himself into reverse gear by turning back to the Baroque period.

In anticipation of commemorating George Frideric Handel’s 250th anniversary of his death (April 14, 1759), Villazón was eager to step up to his next musical objective. Having made an earlier CD recording of Claudio Monteverdi with conductor and harpsichordist Emmanuelle Haďm, Rolando Villazón knew he could sing this repertoire, citing “…it was one of the most spiritually fulfilling experiences of my career.” This prompted contact with Paul McCreesh, a forerunner of the Baroque period-instrument movement, and his consortium known as the Gabrieli Players, which inevitably led to this classical compendium.

First off, the clarity of the recording is exemplary. Meticulousness is everywhere from beginning to end. The Gabrieli Players, including more than a dozen violins, handful of violas, a few cellos and double basses, a gamba, flute, bassoons, theorbo (long-necked lute) and harpsichord, perform with an inner sixth sense that accentuates the libretto’s artistic moments while backing off respectfully for Mr. Villazón to perform his magic. And magical it is.

While a wonderfully constructed English booklet outlines the unfolding of this collection of Handel arias, Rolando Villazón specifically makes mention “…there is nowhere to hide in Handel. Everything has to be very clear – consonants, attacks, the way you come down from a high note.” Indeed he does: every note, every word and even the slightest nuance is exposed for all to hear which makes Villazón’s interpretation of each Handel aria a thrilling episodic event unto itself.

In this CD we hear a cross section of excerpts, some written for tenors and others not. First and foremost is the selection of music which takes into account the singer’s tessitura, maximizing Mr. Villazón’s robustness and alacrity. Despite the few occasional notes that test the singer’s lower stretches, these are gratefully compensated overall by a near flawless performance and bold interpretation.

It’s a pleasure to see Rolando Villazón venture into this unchartered territory. No doubt, we are anxious to learn what’s around the corner by way of an extended vocal vocabulary. If you’re a Villazón aficionado, don’t be left without this recording. You’ll find yourself listening to it again and again.

Christie Grimstad




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