There are certainly some Scholl recordings that I anticipate. I'd love to see him record another Handel oratorio with McCreesh, a full-length Handel or Vivaldi opera, a recital of Vivaldi operatic arias, among others. Are you listening, Decca?
The last Scholl recital, Arcadia, featured arias by lesser-known baroque composers. This time around, it seems that Decca wanted a recital that had broader appeal, hence the idea of a Senesino tribute.
The recital begins with two Handel arias, the first being Bel Contento. This is the Scholl we all know and love, his voice as lovely as the springtime. His ravishing tonal beauty is in abundance, and the Accademica Bizantina provides wonderful support.
After such a nice introduction, Scholl coasts through Pompe Vane / Dove Sei?, undoing some of his faultless technique through some rather bland, white-voiced singing. To hear the full potential of this aria, we must turn to Marilyn Horne's interpretation. If you have the chance, listen to her exquisite, fluttering recording of the aria, so different from the go-for-broke Marilyn to whom we are so accustomed.
Scholl is undoubtedly more excited at the prospect of capturing the non-Handel arias. For this reason, he really catches fire in Stelle Ingrate. One of Scholl's greatest vocal qualities is his peerless staccato trill, and Stelle Ingrate is the perfect vehicle to wow us with. We also get more of a sense of his vocal heft. Thankfully, we have a block of five non-Handel arias that are infinitely better for his voice. My other favorite is Del Ciel Sui Giri. The extended introduction is a fascinating blend of horns and strings, showcasing Accademica Bizantina's talents. In the aria proper, Scholl treats us to some amazing, rapid passagework in the repeat of the A part. This is, hands down, the reason I adore Scholl so much.
Scholl revisits Handel with Dall'ondoso Periglio / Aure, Deh, Per Pieta. His delivery of the recitative is more dramatic than before, especially on phrases such as, "Voi dite che io son morto!" Also, he uses a lower register, to thrilling effect. Unfortunately, he confounds us in the aria section. Attempting to sound more dramatic, his fits of excitement keep yielding to that all-purpose beauty that seems to plague him in Handel. In all fairness, this is still Scholl, but it frustrating to hear him hint at dramatic prowess, without taking the plunge.
Al Lampo Dell'Armi is taken at a lightening-quick pace. This would not work on stage, but in the confines of a recital, it becomes a vanity piece for which to showcase again his almighty staccato trill. It beguiles you to hear Scholl unfazed, even at such quick tempi. The purists will cry foul; I, for one, do not think of baroque music as a sacred cow. A little experimentation now and then, in the hands of such a gifted singer, is not a bad thing.
Unfortunately, this bit of bravura is followed by the clunker of the whole set, Cara Sposa. Granted, many great artists have recorded well-known arias that were not suited for their voice, against better judgement. I think of Maria Callas singing the bolero from I Vespri Siciliani, Birgit Nilsson singing O Don Fatale, or Joan Sutherland singing the Queen of the Night's first aria. Such recordings are for the fans only. I, for one, cannot suspend disbelief, where Scholl and Cara Sposa are concerned. In fact, I have yet to listen to the whole of the aria. It doesn't help matters that the PI support is so cautious and polite. Gimme Marilyn Horne, folks!
Thankfully, that woefully misguided interpretation is followed by the melancholy Va Per Le Vene Il Sangue. Again, we are given evidence of how divine Scholl can be when an aria inspires him.