At a time when broad appeal and maximum sales are all important, Juan Diego Flórez has been notable for his deliberate narrow repertoire, concentrating almost exclusively on the 19th-century bel canto for which he’s ideally suited, while leaving alone swathes of the repertoire most star tenors can’t resist.
But after a series of solo discs which maintained this focus, and one charming excursion into South-American pop songs, Flórez has now hit upon a project which allows him to branch out: sacred songs. Seasonal favourites like O Come All Ye Faithful and Franck’s Panis angelicus jostle alongside music from Fux, Ariel Ramírez and even Flórez himself.
It’s good to hear the tenor cast his net so wide; and yet, it has to be said, it’s still on home territory that he sounds his best – shiningly immaculate in arias from florid bel canto-era masses, soulful and relaxed in the Latin textures of Ramírez’s Missa criolla or his own song Santo, an upbeat guitar-based number which takes Rossini’s lead in making a solemn text sound jaunty. But the further he moves from his usual fare, the less idiomatic Flórez sounds – contemplative music like Comfort ye and Schubert’s Ave Maria need caressing by a more limpid voice than his bright, edgy tenor, and his delivery of traditional carols, though sincere, lacks gravitas.
Nevertheless, kudos to Flórez for stepping beyond his usual bounds – there are better and more beautiful sacred albums about, but Santo is still a worthy addition to Flórez’s solo discography.