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Andreas Scholl - Bach Cantatas; Aleksandra Kurzak - Gioia! /Decca - review

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This is countertenor Andreas Scholl's first Bach recording for Decca. He holds worldwide acclaim and is regularly hailed as the "world's greatest countertenor". His superstardom, however, has not stopped him from honouring the works of a certain composer that he has known since the age of nine: Bach.

J.S Bach composed over 200 cantatas; this term defined as a concerto for voice and instruments. The opening of Cantata 82, Ich habe genug is most certainly a highlight, if not for Scholl's truly stunning vocal ability but for the exceedingly brightly coloured oboe that graces the accompaniment championing Bach's melody above the strings. Aside from Scholl's voice, the Kammerorchester Basel led by Julia Schröder perform the opening Sinfonia from Cantata 169, Gott soll allein mein Herze haben on this disc which is lively and definitive in addition the Kammerorchester Basel provide a clear and articulated accompaniment throughout.

Normally I find slow tempi in early music irritating and often dull, though, the slow tempo seems rather justified when Scholl begins to sing; the slow tempi allows for an enhanced colouring of the vocal line; this is where his voice really thrives. Along with arias from Bekennen will ich seinen Namen and Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde this disc of Cantatas makes for a definitive recording of Bach. Furthermore, this is beautiful interpretation of Bach's glorious music - utter bliss.

Young Polish-born coloratura soprano Aleksandra Kurzak is currently making her way around some of the world's major opera houses and rapidly becoming a star. Her mother, a soprano and father, a French horn player she was destined for a great musical future and so began the piano at the age of nine; following her parents wishes she would have been a violinist though instead, ten years later, at the age of nineteen she began vocal tuition and this is the result.

The disc entitled 'Gioia' (Joy) showcases Kurzak's greatest talents. The disc opens with an immensely embellished 'Una voce poco fa' from Il barbiere di Siviglia and though Kurzak's Italian is slightly unclear, the rendition is true to Rosina's character and most certainly to Rossini's writing with a quickening tempo from Israeli maestro Omer Meir Wellber conducting the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, who provide a more than excellent accompaniment throughout this disc.

'Una parola, o Adina' from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore with tenor Francesco Demuro is delicately treated and beautiful all the same. Kurzak seems poised for Verdi; she sings two arias from La traviata and Rigoletto to great affect, though, I feel that Puccini is going a little too far for her voice - she sings 'O mio babbino caro' and 'Quando m'en vò' - I felt as though her voice was too heavy and careless in both arias especially in her top range. The best is yet to come; as a finale to the disc Kurzak sings 'Do grobu trwac w bezzennym stanie' from Moniuszko's Straszny dwór - the Polish opera "Haunted Manor" premiered in 1865 - I've always known of the wealth of operatic composers in Poland and this aria confirms it; undoubtedly the best sung aria on the album from a composer that, to me, was an unknown.

Andreas Scholl will sing his Bach Cantatas in recital in Birmingham on the 1 February and in London on the 3rd. Aleksandra Kurzak will perform the role of Susanna in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano from the 11 February.