Philip Glass: 1000 Airplanes on the Roof: “The Encounter” – Liquid Days: “Liquid Days” – Monsters of Grace: “In the Arc of your Mallet” – The Fall of the House of Usher: “How All Living Things Breathe” – Akhnaten: “Hymn to the Sun”
George Frideric Handel: Amadigi di Gaula, HWV 11: “Pena Tiranna” – Flavio, HWV 16: “Rompo I lacci” – Rinaldo, HWV 7: “Lascia ch'io pianga” – Rodelinda, HWV 19: “Vivi, tiranno, io t’ho scampato – Tolomeo, re de Egitto, HWV 25: “Inumano Fratel”; “Stille amare” – Serse, HWV 40: “Ombra mai fù”
Anthony Roth Costanzo (countertenor), Les Violons du Roy Chamber Orchestra, Jonathan Cohen (conductor)
Recording: Salle Raoul-Jobin, Palais Montcalm, Québec City, Québec, Canada (July 2017) – 66’
Decca Gold 80028648-02 (Distributed by Verve Music Label) – Booklet in English
The opening track of Anthony Roth Costanzo’s debut recording, “ARC Glass/Handel”, blasts off with “The Encounter” (from 1000 Airplanes on the Roof) by Philip Glass, and is, in fact, immediately transporting to the new millennial world of Costanzo’s countertenor imprimatur – not automatically relegated to limited repertory, even as he spellbinds by equally mixing the tracks with Handel arias. Costanzo’s release last month coincides with the performance art premiere of Glass/Handel at Opera Philadelphia’s O18 Festival staged in the Barnes Foundation museum as an ‘installation’ of music and visual arts and altogether baroque spectacle.
It is a rare opportunity to hear a recording and the live performance launched in the same week, distinctly different experiences, even though the live version’s physical production was a tug of war for attention with a sensorial onslaught of other artistic elements.
Following Glass’s “Encounter”, there’s Handel’s soul search lament “Pena Tiranna.” With both on this recording "live", this is profoundly timeless music past the soul search opening lament lines, “Pena Tiranna io sento al core” (“I feel a tyrannical pain in my heart.”)
From there, ARC Glass/Handel alternates between both composers, an exploration of contrasts and similarities between the composers (minimalism, repetition, etc.) that is a subtext.
Costanzo continues to punch through a musical time space continuum and few would argue with Costanzo’s virtuosity: his interpretive artistry as a countertenor is somewhat undiscovered terrain for contemporary audiences in compositions like “Liquid Days” with lyrics by David Byrne and featuring the blazing lead flute by Ariane Brisson (who also played in the Opera Philadelphia event.) Or consider the film noir atmospherics of “In the Arc of your Mallet” with Glass’ orchestral vortexes evoking a torrid relationship. The lyrical catharsis of harp and oboe on “How All Living Things Breathe” (from The Fall of the House of Usher) strikes as baroque era Glass fusion.
Costanzo so illuminates Handel on “Lascia ch’io pianga” that it seems like a suspended musical realm of its own. Words fail when trying to convey its impact – as Miles Davis used to describe it as music ‘entering your body.’ The aria is arresting enough on the disc, but to experience Costanzo's vocal depth live is simply spellbinding.
Then there’s “Vivi, tiranno” with its vaulting scales and Costanzo’s vocal reaches exposing his more aerated lower register. In contrast, Handel’s “Rompo i Lacci” (“I break the bonds of love and fend off the darts”) is sarcastic à la Molière with the edge sharpened by Costanzo. Handel’s “Inhumane Fratel” is a tragic lament that conjures what the libretto describes as ‘Implacable destiny, tyrannical fate’ while “Stille amare” floats through the air in all of its spiritual mystique.
Conductor Jonathan Cohen and the 35 musicians of Les Violins du Roy Chamber Orchestra bring power, poetry and precision to ARC Glass/Handel.
Lewis J. Whittington