Like many of Cecilia Bartoli’s releases, this one has a catchy title and cover, but is really just a convenient way of grouping together some arias from orotorios written during a short period when stage performances were banned by the Papacy.
This is the only Bartoli recital I own, a gift from a friend, who loves her unreservedly, and no doubt intended to win me over to the cause. Unfortunately his well-meaning intentions didn’t work. I’ve never been a big fan of Ms Bartoli’s hectoring, over-vibrant manner, especially in fast music, and this recital disc doesn’t do much to help me overcome my prejudice. I dig it out from time to time, in the hope that my reactions might be different and that I will be able to enjoy what so many others obviously do, but to no avail. In some of the slower arias, Handel’s Lascia la spina, for instance (his first thoughts on the famous aria that eventually found its way into his Rinaldo as Lascia ch’io pianga) I begin to capitulate to the way she gently caresses the line and the genuine pathos of the performance, but I simply cannot get on with the rat-a-tat firing off in the faster music, which sounds just un-musical to me.
Even in some of the slower arias, Caldara’s Si piangete pupille dolente, for instance, she presses on individual notes, losing sight of the long legato line, the tone too breathless and vibrating. This must be a conscious decision on her part, because she is quite capable of maintaining the line when she wants to.
For those who respond to her style more sympathetically than I do, I should say that the programme is an interesting one and Mark Minkowski’s accompaniments with Les Musiciens du Louvre are excellent.
I often complain these days about faceless singers with no personality, and Bartoli is certainly not that, easily recognisable from just a few short measures. I just wish that her individual style and personlality were more to my taste.