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 A Musicall Banquet

Review by Judith Malafronte

The unpretentious artistry of this singer has captivated me since I first heard him, in Bach cantatas & Handel opera arias.  He seems to be revealing the music instead of obscuring it with vocal affectations, and because his models are not Italian mezzos of the 1950s, I find Andreas Scholl more interesting and moving than many of his countertenor colleagues.

Robert Dowland's 1610 anthology, A Musical Banquet, provides a ready-made recital, containing songs both plan and fancy, in a variety of languages and styles.  In the four years since Scholl's last lute-song recording (for Harmonia Mundi), his voice has darkened pleasingly, the subtleties of the English language are more in play, and the musical expression has become ever bolder.  Gone are the reserve & Teutonic correctness of his earlier work.  But in light of his contributions to The Three Countertenors spoof disc, this should not come as a surprise.

The three John Dowland songs are spectacularly sung.  Lady, if you so spite me sounds surprisingly alluring and openly sexy, while the wistful, private tone of Far from triumphing court, unusual in this piece, is most effective.  The well-known In darkness let me dwell is riveting.  Within the atmosphere of overarching sorrow, and with imaginationand technical control to color and highlight the ever-shifting lyrics, Scholl makes this piece sound utterly new.  He sails right through the coloratura divisions of Sta notte mi sognava, and in the two Caccini songs - including a very unbuttoned Amarilli mia bella - he applies vibrato and portamento consciously rather than constantly, to great effect.

The instrumentalists are first-rate partners, especially viol player Christopher Coin, who takes a verse of O dear life with lyrical suppleness and offers impressive lyra-viol technique in Richard Martin’s Change thy mind since she doth change. The sound throughout has been beautifully captured by the remarkable Chris Sayers, and the disc ends on a contented sigh, with the utter simplicity of the anonymous O bella piú. If you have been wondering what all the countertenor fuss is about, here is the answer.

February 2001
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