I couldn't wait to get my hands on this album; I have been a big fan of Andreas Scholl for some time now, I think he is peerless in Bach, and I loved his performance on Handel's Rodelinda DVD from the Glyndebourne production.
However, after listening to this collection several times, I feel it simply lacks punch. The unearthly, angelic beauty of Scholl's voice, coupled with impeccable technique- great runs and what a perfect messa di voce- all this makes for intensely lovely listening experience, yet in many places it is just perfectly beautiful and perfectly boring. I was expecting a little bit more from him this time, but there were many moments when I caught myself bypassing Scholl's voice and tuning my ears to the splendid playing of Accademia Bizantina orchestra instead. I was very taken with his Heroes album, where he gave us great versions of several operatic arias and I was hoping he would scale up the drama here, but when it comes to the work in the recording studio, he's not there yet.
Few arias, notably the ones not written by Handel, show some dramatic colors: Albinoni's Stelle ingrate where Scholl cruises closely to his baritone register, Lotti's Discordi pensieri, and the final aria by Porpora. And old chestnuts like Dove Sei are finally here, but the one I was hoping would be ideal for Scholl, the great Cara Sposa, sounds underpowered. Cara Sposa is for countertenors what O Mio Babbino Caro is for sopranos, most of them get to do it at some point, but this version is just nice, and that's not good enough coming from Mr Rolls Royce of Countertenors. It's smooth and beautiful but then it would be hard to find a piece of music that would not sound beautiful when sung by Scholl. In terms of expressing anything other than the placid loveliness, it has some ways to go.
As a start for Scholl's adventures on Senesino trail, this album also comes short. The selection of arias is a mixed bag, stylistically uneven and not very inspired. Some of these arias are recorded for the first time, points for that, but in these days, many artists go directly to manuscripts and then sell these finds to us with lot more conviction. Also, Scholl's ornamentations are so elegant and understated that they hardly register. The album cover shows a picture of him looking as adorably dorky as usual, but I would like a splash of Senesino's primadonna antics and drama queen persona for a change. More energy, a touch of the divine insanity that Cecilia Bartoli brings to her versions of castrato showpieces... Now that David Daniels and Bejun Mehta have shown us how brilliant countertenors can be in Baroque operas, I wish Scholl would go for broke himself and gave us vivid, absorbing interpretations of these great arias.
If you love Scholl's voice, this album will showcase it very nicely, but don't expect much more than this.