MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Current Playlist: El Maestro Farinelli

As I try to work through some of the titles that have grabbed my attention from the most recent pileup of CD releases:

El Maestro Farinelli with countertenor Bejun Mehta and Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Concerto Köln. I have yet to hear anything routine from the amazing Spanish conductor. These performances of music by little-heard Baroque opera composers (including Porpora, Hasse, de Nebra, Jomelli, Corradini, Marcolini, and Traetta; there’s also a C.P.E. Bach Sinfonia title “Fandango”) show off the many-faceted Maestro Heras-Casado’s early-music expertise.

The guiding idea behind the program is to retrieve works Farinelli produced during the years he served as an imperial impresario in Madrid and Aranjuez — works long since fallen into oblivion. (Apparently many of these composers’ orchestral scores were destroyed in a palace fire in the 19th century.)

Mehta sings only two numbers (one a brief zarzuela duet with a decidedly non-“HIP” overdubbing of his voice for both parts) but channels all the mystery and charisma of an 18th-century Klaus Nomi for the compelling Porpora aria (“Alto Giove, è tua grazia,” from Polifemo). I wish there were more vocal music here.

Heras-Casado and the players bring stylish, pointed energy to the instrumental selections — the bulk of the material here — but my first impression is that too much of the program may be the 18th-century equivalent of easy-listening music, perky and caffeinated as it is. But what’s wrong with guilty pleasures? (Note: This is Heras-Casado’s debut for Archiv Produktion label just relaunched by Deutsche Grammophon.)

Filed under: Baroque opera, CD review, conductors

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