In recent interviews, French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky has said that he was willing to outgrow the angelic quality usually associated to his voice and take a walk on the wild side. His new CD of castrato (yes, again…) arias by Johann Christian Bach could be understood as an attempt to prove that he has a bit of Cecilia Bartoli in him. However, even the Germans would hesitate before a whole J. C. Bach evening and his concerts in Berlin and in Hamburg were spiced up with a bit of Handel.
The CD is named after the aria d’affetto Cara, la dolce fiamma from Adriano in Siria. And this should be no coincidence, since this noble and touching melody happened to be the item in the program that fits his voice best. Jaroussky’s pure-toned floated countertenor, unfortunately, does not do heroics. And that is no surprise – even richter-toned (and larger-voiced) countertenors such as David Daniels and Bejun Mehta have to work a bit hard to emulate the clarion-quality of the castrato voice*. As it is, items like Vo solcando un mar crudele (from Ataserse) or Ma pensa che quando ristretto (from Temistocle) sound far from furious but rather slightly fazed in a voice whose low register is rather timid and whose high notes are variations of crystalline.
The Handel items have been chosen in the same spirit – and left the same impression. Other than Stille amare (from Tolomeo), where Jaroussky was entirely at ease to sculpt his way through Handelian phrasings with graciousness and expressivity, the other items left an impression rather of an attempt than that of an accomplishment. Sta nell’ircana was a competition won by the French horn and the repeat only proved to be more favourable thanks to upward decoration; Scherza, infida displayed some melancholy, but we are words apart from the intense despair in Lorraine Hunt’s famous recording – his accusation of infida so placidly posed that one would take them for a compliment. Among the encore items, Rinaldo’s Venti turbini displayed all right breathtaking coloratura – but again nothing really warlike could be guessed from the singing. The impression was rather balletic.
Jaroussky was ideally partnered by the Concerto Köln led by its Konzertmeister, Markus Hoffmann, and by Brazilian harpsichordist Nicolau de Figueiredo. After a relatively well-behaved Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (from Handel’s Salomon), they would plug in for exciting accounts of the arie di bravura and sensitive accompaniment of the slower items. In J.C. Bach’s Concerto for Harpsichord in F minor (W C63), Figueiredo proved to be an exuberant virtuoso, even if the Konzerthaus’s warm acoustics made things a bit difficult for him in the tutti passages.
*Of course, nobody has heard a castrato other than in the Moreschi recordings, but one can gauge that from the music composers wrote for them.