Ariosti: London arias for alto

Filippo Mineccia countertenor, Ensemble Odyssee, Andrea Friggi
74:49
Glossa GCD 923506

Until very recently, Attilio Ariosti (1666-1729) was musically almost unknown. It was not always so – Hawkins, in his 1776 A General History of the Science and Practice of Music  thought that the great prison scene from Coriolano  recorded here (tracks 8-9) was “wrought up to the highest degree of perfection that music is capable of”. Now (amazingly, for the second time in the past year) we are able to judge for ourselves.

Andrea Friggi has assembled a fine selection of Ariosti’s opera arias and sinfonias, not only from his mature Royal Academy of Music seasons in London, but also from earlier in his career, when he was an Imperial agent to the Viennese court and found time in between his ambassadorial duties to compose an opera or two.

Ariosti comes across as a composer of much imagination and dramatic strength; try the splendid Ouverture to Coriolano  (tracks 5-6), with its extended and lively fugato and quirkily obsessive Presto, or the eerie ‘Premera soglio di morte’ from Vespasiano, (track 4) with unisoni  bassoons wandering through the band’s chordal accompaniment. The great Coriolano  accompagnato (again with bassoon obbligato) and extended aria, with concitato  B-section, is fully as moving as Hawkins says. There is a similar dramatic contrast in tempi in the final ‘Io spero che in quei guardi’, also from Coriolano.

Filippo Mineccia sings with much richness of tone and enviable accuracy in his runs; perhaps a little more light and shade could have been brought to the interpretations, but the music comes across strongly enough.

Ensemble Odyssee give stylish and extremely lively orchestral support – they have made a particular effort to reproduce the Haymarket Theatre orchestra’s strong treble and bass sound described by contemporary operagoers such as the French diplomat Fougeroux.

Andrea Friggi is a persuasive director, as well as providing the fine sleeve notes.

One wonders what a complete Ariosti opera (Coriolano  perhaps?) would be like…

Alastair Harper