Xavier Sabata, Armonia Atenea, George Petrou
Ariosti, Caldara, Conti, Handel, Hasse, Orlandini, Sarro, Torri & Vivaldi
This is an intriguing CD bringing recits and arias from early 18th-century operas by big names such as Handel and Vivaldi, other composers whose stars are currently in the ascendant such as Hasse, Conti and Caldara and relatively neglected composers such as Giuseppe Maria Orlandini, Attilio Ariosti and Pietro Torri. As soon as I put on the CD and heard Sabata’s voice, I instantly thought of Handel’s great castrato star Senesino, and strangely several of the arias recorded here were composed for him. Like Senesino, Sabata has a wonderfully rich low alto voice, as well as the gift for dramatic pathos which Senesino clearly also had. The programme notes make a valiant if not entirely successful attempt to tie the arias together using ancient Greek theories of drama, although the English translation unfortunately uses the word ‘hybris’ rather than the more customary ‘hubris’, and the whole construct is stretched ad absurdum in trying to embrace Hasse’s oratorio on the Conversion of St Agostini! I would have preferred more information on the relatively unknown but excellent composers whose music is recorded here, often for the first time. No matter, this is a wonderfully engaging CD, and while the various curious photos of various parts of Mr Sabata’s anatomy being drenched with water are undoubtedly intended to lend the product visual impact, this is a CD which more than stands on its considerable musical merits.
If the excellent period ensemble Armonia Atenea occasionally seem to occupy a slightly more distant and more resonant acoustic space than the soloist, their contribution is superbly dynamic and, in the haunting aria “Gelido in igni vena” from Vivaldi’s Farnace, positively apocalyptic. Listening to these powerful performances it is easy to understand how it was that Senesino and his fellow castrati occupied the cult status that they did, able as they were to reduce audiences to tears with their sheer vocal wizardry and musicality. These are characteristics which Xavier Sabata also has in abundance, and on the basis of this CD I have mentally added him to my list of remarkable male alto voices which this new generation has produced.
D. James Ross