Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Review: Farinelli the composer

Farinelli: The Composer  
Jorg Washchinski, male soprano  
Salburger Hofmusik; Wolfgang Brunner, conductor New Classical Adventure

“Farinelli the composer” is a fascinating release. CarloBroschi (AKA Farinelli) was – by all accounts – the greatest castrato opera singer of his day, and perhaps of all time. But because Farinelli conquered the stage 200 hears before sound recording technology, we only have contemporary descriptions of his voice to judge the extent of his talent.

Fortunately, in addition to being a singer, Farinelli was also a composer. Like many virtuosos of his day, he wrote music exclusively for his own  performances -- primarily arias. Baroque opera singers were expected to improvise around the written score, and Farinelli was no exception. Of course, such improvisations are ephemeral. But just as a Miles Davis composition can provide insight into his improvisational style, so too does Farinelli’s arias give us a better idea of what his voice was capable of, and how he was likely to improvise in performance.

The arias on this release are of great historical interest, which is not to say they’re without compositional merit. Even though the orchestrations are run-of-the-mill, Farinelli was a better than average composer with a real gift for melody (not surprisingly). The vocal lines he wrote for himself are full of unusual twists, turns, and leaps that could trip up a lesser singer.

Sopranist Jorg Waschinski is more than equal to the task, and does an outstanding job with this material. No matter how talented the countertenor, the range is always a little more constrained than that of a true castrato. Nevertheless, Waschinski soars through the upper register seemingly without effort, delivering a clear, full-voiced sound. If you’ve seen the movie “Farinelli” then you know of the man’s reputation. But the voice you heard was a digital blend of different singers. In this release you hear an actual singer delivering Farinelli’s music to the best of his formidable ability. And the humanity of  Waschinski's voice makes all the difference.

Although we can never really know what Farinelli sounded like, this recording of his music brings us a little bit closer.   Highly recommended for anyone interested in Baroque or Classical era opera.

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