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Arias for Senesino

This CD was Number 1 in the UK classical charts in its first week of release
and the only classical CD in the top 100 CDs of 2005 in the Observer Music Magazine (UK)

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Press reviews of the CD

1 - Gramophone: Editor's Choice
review by Richard Wigmore

For his colleagues, Handel included, Senesino ('the Sienese') seems to have been the star castrato from hell: vain, insufferably arrogant, likely to throw a tantrum at the slightest provocation. But for three decades, he enraptured audiences in Italy and London with the sheer beauty of his voice ('powerful, clear, equal and sweet', according to Johann Quantz) and his mastery of both the 'pathetic' and the brilliant styles. Quantz's description could apply equally well to the far more amenable Andreas Scholl, who has come up with an enterprising programme of arias associated with the temperamental 18th century castrato, several recorded for the first time. If the Handel items - all well-known apart from an elegant minuet aria from Flavio - contain most of the best tunes, there are many delights elsewhere, including an exultant Scarlatti aria complete with swashbuckling horns, two tenderly expressive numbers by Lotti and a virtuoso 'rage' aria (Stelle ingrate) by Albinoni calculated to bring the house down.

Scholl sings this stunningly, the reams of coloratura dazzlingly even yet never mechanical, and delivered on seemingly inexhaustible reserves of breath. Another highlight is his joyous singing of the Scarlatti aria, where he gives full vent to his resonant middle register. But it is the slower, more soulful numbers that remain longest in the memory, above all Cara sposa and the scenas from Rodelinda and Giulio Cesare. In the accompanied recitatives Scholl reveals an eloquence of declamation for which Senesino was famed, while the arias combine liquid, subtly varied tone (including gentle, flutey high notes that recall Alfred Deller) with a command of the long Handelian line. Scholl imaginatively uses the da capos (discreetly ornamented) to enhance the expression, and proves a master of the technique of messa di voce - gradually swelling and then softening on long, sustained notes - that was specially prized in the 18th century. The grace and intensity of the singing are matched by Ottavio Dantone's period band, and caught in a sympathetic acoustic. Enthusiastically recommended, and not just to paid-up Scholl fans.

copyright © 2005 The Gramophone

2 - The Independent
review by Andrew Clarke

It's a pity that Andreas Scholl's superstar status inhibits a busier recording schedule, for releases such as this justify his reputation.  Featuring arias written for one of the great castrati of the 18th century, this collection showcases well-known Handel (the heartbreakingly beautiful 'Cara sposa' from Rinaldo) and the rare (arias by Lotti and Porpora, anyone?). A divine collection.

copyright © 2005 The Independent

3 - The Sunday Times: CD of the week
review by Hugh Canning

Il Senesino ("the little Sienese", although he grew to imposing stature in his prime) was the stage name of the alto castrato Francesco Bernardi. He is remembered today primarily for his association with Handel as primo uomo (first man) of London's first great opera company, the Royal Academy of Music, from 1720 to 1733. His voice was famously described as a "powerful, clear, equal and sweet contralto, with perfect intonation and an excellent shake (trill)". He must have been a remarkable singer, judging by the 17 operatic roles Handel wrote for him, including the title roles of Radamisto, Giulio Cesare and Orlando and Bertarido in Rodelinda. Scholl sings - marvellously -two of Cesare's arias (the rapt Aure, deh per pieta and the fiery Al lampo dell'armi), one of Bertarido's (the famous Dove sei) and one of Guido's from Flavio. Given the huge number of arias Handel wrote for his star castrato, it's odd that Scholl includes Rinaldo's Cara sposa, which wasn't (though he did sing it in a revival), but it is beautifully sung. The arias written for Senesino by Albinoni, Lotti, the elder Scarlatti and Porpora are less interesting, but worth hearing.

copyright © 2005 The Sunday Times

4 - The Times
review by Geoff Brown

Look swiftly at this CD and you might believe it contains vocal gems from an obscure opera called Senesino. But all Baroque music fiends know different.

Senesino -the rotund, piggy-faced, insolent, demanding, fantastically gifted Senesino -was one of the early 18th century's leading alto castratos. Audiences and commentators alike praised him to the skies. Handel in London wrote aria after aria for his eloquent voice; and it is the arias in Rodelinda, Rinaldo and friends that obviously led the counter-tenor Andreas Scholl to ransack library manuscripts and build an enjoyable, at times enthralling, CD portrait of the Baroque wonder.

Senesino, born Francesco Bernardi in Siena, was skilled apparently at legato phrasings and downplayed heavy ornamentation. Scholl has never had problems with long flowing lines; though what strikes home on this CD is the range of colour now at his mature command (with some loss in purity along the way). Drama, too: he certainly packs more feeling into Cara sposa than David Daniels manages in his complete Rinaldo recording. Nor is there any dilatory twiddling with the musicians of Ottavio Dantone's Accademia Bizantina: instead, we get bouncy rhythms, cut and thrust, and, when needed, languorous sighs. Singer and orchestra work well together.

The five extracts from Handel's operas give the disc its spine; but there's a special pleasure in the glimpses of other composers and operas in Senesino's repertoire.

The previously unknown plums are Antonio Lotti's aria Discordi pensieri, the discordant thoughts garlanded with a spooky solo violin, and the equally anguished Va per le vene il sangue from Porpora's Il trionfo di Camilla, complete with memorable stabbing strings, sung at the end of Senesino's career in 1740.

For Scholl this disc seems an admirable step forward, balancing his delight in the esoteric with a nose for the theatrical and what one might call human interest.

copyright © 2005 The Times

5 - The London Evening Standard

Scholl is outstanding technically and these performances are impeccable.

copyright © 2005 The Evening Standard

6 - The Daily Telegraph: CD of the Week
review by Richard Wigmore

Fêted like a pop star, the 18th-century castrato Senesino was insufferably arrogant even by the standards of his breed. His famed clashes with Handel must have made spectacular theatre. But as an artist he had few equals, entrancing audiences with the power and sweetness of his voice and his mastery of both the "pathetic" and the brilliant styles.

That mastery is shared by countertenor Andreas Scholl in this snapshot of Senesino's 30-year career. Handel naturally takes pride of place, with numbers from Giulio Cesare, Rodelinda (Dove sei, known in English as Art Thou Troubled) and Rinaldo (Cara sposa), plus an elegant minuet aria from the rare Flavio. But the other items are all worth hearing, especially two heartfelt numbers by Lotti and an exuberant Alessandro Scarlatti aria complete with rollicking horns.

Scholl sings this, and Caesar's pugnacious Al lampo dell'armi, with the bravura showmanship for which Senesino was famed. Even more memorable, though, are his liquid tone and wonderfully shapely phrasing in the slower, soulful numbers, above all Cara sposa, most piercing of Handel's operatic laments. High-octane accompaniments from Ottavio Dantone's period ensemble set the seal on a glorious recital.

copyright © 2005 The Daily Telegraph

6 - gfhandel.org
review by David Vickers

click here to read the review

7 - The Observer
review by Anthony Holden

Fresh from his triumph at the Proms, outstanding counter-tenor Andreas Scholl repeats some of the exquisite Handel numbers he sang at the Last Night, along with less familiar arias by Albinoni, Lotti, Porpora and Alessandro Scarlatti. Scholl's purity of tone is most remarkable in the arias from Giulio Cesare that Handel wrote for the 'Senesino' of Scholl's title - Francesco Bernardi of Siena, a contralto the composer imported to London in the 1720s. By turns sprightly and sensitive, dramatic and achingly beautiful, Scholl proves himself a master of this repertoire.

copyright © 2005 The Observer

8 - The New Zealand Herald

Andreas Scholl's Arias for Senesino is a tribute to the castrato, Senesino, for whom Handel wrote the title role of Giulio Cesare. This is a collection of quieter delights. When Scholl waxes bellicose in Handel's Al lampo dellarmi, he does so without trumpeting reinforcements. The elegant players of the Accademia Bizantina create a relaxed backdrop; conductor Ottavio Dantone keeps tempos buoyant while sensitively balanced recording allows every detail of line to show through.

copyright © 2005 The New Zealand Herald

9 - The Sunday Mercury
review by David Brookes

In the early eighteenth century, Senesino was the Robbie Williams of his day. Arrogant, awkward and highly paid, Senesino - the 'Sienese' or man from Siena - was renowned for his opera singing across Europe. This CD pulls together a collection of arias by the alto castrato, performed for the likes of Albinoni, Lotti, Scarlatti and Handel. Countertenor Andreas Scholl shows off his amazing voice with the utmost control, backed by the exquisite harpsichord and strings of the Accademia Bizantina orchestra. Their combined efforts bring to life a musical treat from a bygone era.

copyright © 2005 The Sunday Mercury

10 - The Northern Echo
review by Gavin Engelbrecht

The alto castrato Il Senesino was the pop star of the 18th century, who captivated audiences with his sweet and powerful voice. Remembered for his association with Handel, who wrote no less than 17 operatic roles for him, he also had music composed specially for him by Albinoni, Lotti and Scarlatti. The glory of a bygone age has been resurrected by alto Andreas Scholl in an album of exquisite beauty. A gem.

copyright © 2005 The Northern Echo

11 - The Independent
interview with by Elisa Bray

The German counter-tenor Andreas Scholl is performing at the Last Night of the Proms tonight. He will sing pieces from his new album, 'Arias for Senesino', named after the 18th-century castrato who inspired Handel, among others.

How does it feel to be the first counter-tenor to perform at the Last Night of the Proms?

It's an honour and a responsibility. I'm aware that most of the people who will see it on TV probably haven't heard a counter-tenor before.

Have you performed at the Proms before?

I have performed five or six. My best experience was with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. It was their first tour in Europe and the conductor, Paul Dyer, is a very good friend of mine. Someone told me that it was the first time in years that a Late Night Prom had sold out. It was a big success and I was very happy with it.

Who was Senesino?

Senesino was the biggest singer of his time. He dominated his era. Lots of music was written for him including some of the most beautiful arias. That's what makes him so special.

Is it important to learn to sing at a young age?

It helps a lot. The same rule applies to learning musical instruments. It's a quicker process of absorbing knowledge. If you learn at a later age, it is much more difficult to get the same reflex and instinct for healthy technical singing.

What will you do with your free time in London?

This is only the second time in my life when I will have the time to see London, not just hotel, concert and airport. I will have a nice dinner with friends and I have a recording studio here. There are shops I'd like to visit. I am a big fan of the Knights Templar [the Christian order founded during the Crusades], and I plan to visit the Temple Church, the last remaining in London. It's beautiful.

What's the happiest moment of your life so far?

The birth of my daughter, Clara, who is now six. She is in Brussels and will watch me sing on TV.

Where are you going on holiday this year?

I travel too much so I decided the best holiday for me would be to relax at home and reconnect with friends. I will watch films and eat pizza. I sing every weekend so, for once, I'll have a regular life for a month at least.

What's your favourite film?

The Right Stuff. It's got a great cast [Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris] and is a great film based on the book by Tom Wolfe.

Have you been watching the cricket?

I know nothing about that sport. It is a riddle to me.

What's your ultimate aim?

I want to sing well.

copyright © 2005 The Independent

12 - Die Zeit
review by Oswald Beaujean

Glaubt man einer zeitgenössischen Karikatur, dann war er nicht unbedingt eine Schönheit: Ein winziger Kopf sitzt halslos auf den viel zu schmalen Schultern eines massigen Körpers, der vor allem aus Bauch besteht. Die Darstellung mag der Bosheit des venezianischen Zeichners geschuldet sein, und wahrscheinlich konnte Francesco Bernardi sein Äußeres ohnehin egal sein. Allem Anschein nach hat er, den die musikalische Welt des frühen 18. Jahrhunderts nur als »Senesino«, den Sieneser, kannte, einfach göttlich gesungen. In ganz Italien feierte er Triumphe als einer der größten Altkastraten seiner Epoche. Dresden verpflichtete ihn 1717 für die enorme Summe von 7000 Talern. Allerdings fiel Senesino dem Hofkapellmeister Heinichen nicht nur stimmlich, sondern mehr noch durch seine maßlose Arroganz auf – Antonio Vivaldi hatte zweifellos seine Gründe, wenn er in seinen Opern nach Möglichkeit auf Kastraten verzichtete. Kollege Händel scheint ein besseres Nervenkostüm besessen zu haben. Er nutzte Senesinos Kündigung in Dresden, um ihn mit Kusshand und gleichfalls für sehr gutes Geld an die Royal Academy nach London zu holen.

Wie es wirklich geklungen hat, wenn diese Kastraten sangen und dem hingerissenen Publikum eine – wie Margriet de Moor es in ihrem Kastraten-Roman
Der Virtuose nennt – »kunstvoll gestaltete Ekstase« bescherten, werden wir niemals wissen. Ziemlich sicher klangen ihre Stimmen völlig anders als der wunderbare Countertenor von Andreas Scholl, aber das macht überhaupt nichts. Das Timbre, mit dem Scholl den Spuren Senesinos folgt, kann unmöglich weniger schön sein. Scholl zaubert sich mit atemberaubender stimmtechnischer Perfektion, mal hoch virtuos, mal tief anrührend, durch wichtige Partien des großen Sienesen. Darunter findet sich Vertrautes aus Händels Cesare, Rinaldo und Rodelinda. Doch fast nebenbei entdecken Scholl und die herrlich flexibel agierende Accademia Bizantina auch ein paar vergessene Perlen der Barockoper: Sechs wunderbare Arien von Antonio Lotti, Tomaso Albinoni, Alessandro Scarlatti und Nicola Porpora lassen ahnen, dass es im Bereich der Barockoper nach wie vor eine Menge zu entdecken gibt.

copyright © 2005 Die Zeit