It was the soundtrack to 1994 film Farinelli that put Les Talens Lyriques on the musical map over two decades ago. Now Christophe Rousset and his musicians mark their 25th anniversary by coming full circle, with an album of arias associated once again with the 18th century’s star castrato.
But Farinelli is now well-trodden ground. Vivica Genaux, David Hansen and Philippe Jaroussky are just the most recent singers to lay claim to this repertoire on disc, so is there really a need for another homage? There are two strong arguments in this disc’s favour. In Ann Hallenberg, Rousset has a collaborator whose agility, power, and range of vocal colour is singular – capable of inhabiting both of Farinelli’s contrasting musical personalities. The project is also particularly canny in its repertoire choices, rejecting the usual single-composer route in favour of a broad selection of musical highlights from, not only Handel and Porpora, but also Leo, Hasse, Giacomelli and even Farinelli’s own composer brother.
The result is a disc full of musical drama, heightened by a live recording originally made in 2011 at the Bergen International Festival. After a slightly slow start in Riccardo Broschi’s handsome, but pedestrian Son qual nave and Ombra fedele, the music really starts to kindle with the gorgeous melodic arabesque that is Porpora’s Si pietoso and his emotive showpiece Alto Giove. Hallenberg’s tone is pure and androgynous, but also warmed by expressive colour.
The sparks of these slower arias become full-grown flames in the coloratura that dominates the second half of the disc. Leo’s Cervo in bosco sets the pace in its earthy athleticism from both voice and Rousset’s gloriously abandoned strings. Horns up the ante for Handel’s Sta nell’Ircana, taken at a thrillingly swift pace, but this aria is just the warm-up for Porpora’s In braccio a mille furie – an exhilarating thrill-ride of semiquavers that drives the album to its ecstatic conclusion. A quarter century on, Rousset and his musicians really are sounding better than ever. This album raises a glass frothing with coloratura to 25 more.