Composers:Porpora, Hasse, Broschi, Giacomelli, Caldara
Compositions: Arias
Performers: Cecilia Bartoli ms, Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini
Catalogue Number: Decca 4850214

Having treated fans to album after album of esoteric opera arias over the last decade of her recording career, I was surprised to discover that Cecilia Bartoli’s latest was dedicated to Farinelli. Born Carlo Broschi, the 18th century’s star castrato is now extremely well-trodden ground for baroque specialists, with Valer Sabadus, Ann Hallenberg and Bejun Mehta just some of the singers who have lain recent claim to this repertoire on disc. But having listened to Bartoli’s effort, my misgivings about whether we needed yet another Farinelli tribute were largely left in the dust. The sheer joy Bartoli clearly takes from this repertoire is infectious (no doubt reflected in her album art!), and time has only sharpened her formidable artistry and communicative powers. Add in the lively, immaculate playing of Il Giardino Armonico under Giovanni Antonini and you’re onto a winner.

Bartoli opens with the heroic Nell’ attendere mio bene from Porpora’s Polifemo, her rapid passagework as precise and sparkling as ever. But the middle section sees her deploy a delicacy and control that’s bewitching, revealing a lovely legato line with real clarity. The same composer’s pastoral Vaghi amori, grazie amate draws from the mezzo a sweetness of tone and sense of tender yearning that’s equally captivating, both qualities also on ample display in the never before recorded Lontan dal solo e caro… Lusingato dalla speme, also from Polifemo. Bartoli’s sparkling vocalism is matched by the acrobatic obbligato playing provided by oboist Pier Luigi Fabretti.

These more inward, reflective selections are programmed alongside stormier arias like Hasse’s Morte col fiero aspetto, which sees each surge of notes spat out with venom, and Chi non sente al mio dolore, penned by Farinelli’s brother, Riccardo Broschi. This last aria once again showcases the mezzo’s phenomenal breath control, as well as her richly coloured singing and pinpoint diction.

Spaciously sung, with tremendous depth of feeling, Porpora’s Alto Giove brings the album to a stunning close.