This is an exciting performance. Gabriele Lavia’s steampunk production is stylish and plays up the violence and tension that underpin the opera. Nicola Luisotti’s conducting does likewise, as he is sharp and authoritative but also allows the music to breath naturally. The cast is excellent.(Opera Now)
This has the look of a career-making recording from Scots violinist Nicola Benedetti, putting her up against difficult repertory that diverges from the crowd-pleasing fare that formed the basis of her career up to this album. It would have been hard to predict just how well she pulls off her task here; few could have heard the profound interpreter of Russian music in the Italia and Silver Violin collections from earlier in the 2010s. The Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 99, is an emotionally thorny work in five movements anchored by a tense passacaglia in the middle. The composer withheld it from publication during the period of renewed Stalinist repression in the late 1940s. It was premiered in 1955 by David Oistrakh, and in endurance and elevated tone even if not quite in lyrical grandeur, Benedetti brings that master to mind. Sample the Stravinskian "Burlesque" finale for a sense of how Benedetti gets outside herself here. The Glazunov Violin Concerto, Op. 82, is a more stable work, rooted in pre-WWI conservatory traditions, and Benedetti's reading is nothing short of letter-perfect.
Within the vast repertoire of the Baroque oratorio, San Nicola di Bari is unique in two ways. It is the only composition to treat a scene from Saint Nicholas' life, and the only one that emerged from the long and successful collaboration between the librettist Silvio Stampiglia and the composer Giovanni Bononcini. Ramée hopes that this recording of Bononcini's most successful oratorio will awaken some curiosity about the many other masterpieces of a composer who has, unfortunately and undeservedly, dwelled too long in the shadows.
With a libretto based on the Old Testament account of Gideon and his non-violent triumph over the Midianites, the Neapolitan composer Nicola Porpora (1686-1768) produced a score which, though far from consistent, has moments of great beauty. Among them are Gideon’s aria ‘Cadranno i lupi’; a sublime Sinfonia at the opening of Part Two; a couple of fine choruses and, above all, beautifully wrought recitatives. These apart, don’t expect a forgotten masterpiece. This performance – the first in modern times – boasts competent and well-matched soloists. Countertenor Kai Wessel as the eponymous hero gives a poised and musical account, though his voice could benefit from a weightier lower register. Male soprano Jörg Waschinski produces an ethereal, emasculated sound that is, perhaps, as close as we can come to that of the original soprano castrato who sang the part of Gideon’s enemy, Oreb. (Pity the man – he ends up losing his head, not to mention his unmentionables.) But most impressive is soprano Linda Perillo (Gideon’s wife, Sichemi) whose singing is by turns agile, sensuous and dramatic. Martin Haselböck draws some silvery string playing from the Vienna Academy, and if his shaping of the oratorio can lack momentum, at least he avoids the aggressively hard-driven style of some period performances.-Kate Bolton