Firstly, The Salieri Album
is the finest recording of any
music to come my way in 2003. That this it is not jazz is immaterial. Prima
mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli began a recording crusade spotlighting lesser known opera vocal compositions, beginning with Antonio Vivaldi, passing through Christoph W. Gluck, before arriving at the toast of Vienna, Antonio Salieri (1750—1825). Her dedication to this less frequently heard repertoire has produced several fine recorded recitals.
Briefly, a history of Bartoli’s muse—best known for his concerti, Vivaldi wrote much choral music and many secular operas, from which Ms. Bartoli extracted her program for the well-received Vivaldi Album (Decca, 1999). She was joined by the superb Italian period instrument ensemble Il'Giardino Armonico, which revolutionized the modern performance of Vivali’s instrumental works.
For her Gluck set Dreams and Fables: Italian Opera Arias
(Decca, 2001), Ms. Bartoli employed another fine period instrument group, Der Akademie für Alte Musik, winning a Grammy Award in the process. Finally, Ms. Bartoli has her attention to the foremost composer of his day, Antonio Salieri. Bartoli is reunited once again with Adam Fischer, who conducted her first recital of Mozart Arias
(Decca, 1996). He leads the very capable period instrument ensemble Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.
Cecilia Bartoli is considered to have a small mezzo voice better suited for Mozart, Haydn, and Rossini than Verdi or Wagner. Over the past number of years, her voice has matured, deepened, and expanded. There is proving to be no better repertoire than Salieri with which to illustrate this. Ms. Bartoli has been criticized for being a bit over the top and the best (worst?) example of this is The Salieri Album. She is unfavorably compared to Pavarotti as being more show person than talent master.
Ms. Bartoli’s voice is given its best workout since La Cerentola , with a recital that is both technically demanding and artistically challenging. The opening piece, “Questo guajo mancava...Son qual lacera tartana” from La secchia rapita , amply illustrates how Ms. Bartoli has extended her performance range into the soprano, fully filling in the corners of that array. Her pyrotechnics are stunning, her lyricism beautiful. This is a voice well suited to the beautiful vocal writing of the master Salieri, who in contrast to Peter Schaffer’s romantic account was not a grubbing jealous wannabe. She employs the perfect balance of chest versus head voice (particularly in the soprano range), showing off her fully developed and muscular range and style. This is a perfect recording of an underappreciated and under-recorded classical composer by the most perfect female singer performing today. Ms. Bartoli captures perfectly the effervesence of Salieri's style and thought. This recording is not just recommended, it is warranteed. It bears special appeal to Mozart lovers who are looking for music of the same caliber elsewhere.
This and all pieces published in December 2003 are dedicated to my late Father, Norman L.Bailey (1915—2003).
For more information, visit Cecilia Bartoli and Decca Records on the web.