Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Castrati: Forgotten Voices @ Purcell Room, London

11 April 2011

As a vocal type, castrati remain something of an enigma to the modern music enthusiast, since the only genuine castrato to be caught on record (over a century ago, when recording was in its infancy) is Alessandro Moreschi. Many countertenors from Alfred Deller to James Bowman, Andreas Scholl and Ren Jacobs have taken on the repertoire in concert on stage and on disc; the latest rising star countertenor to make his mark with it is Cenk Karaferya. Indeed, Karaferyas commitment to it goes further than just singing the repertoire, since in 2006 he founded the Broschi Ensemble, a London-based period instrument group that specialises in performance of the baroque and early classical music.

This recital was relatively short, with around seventy minutes of music played in total. Handel was given the greatest emphasis reflecting Cenks continuing collaboration with the Handel House Museum but compositions by Riccardo Broschi, Nicola Porpora and Antonio Vivaldi broadened the programmes appeal.

The Overture and Gigue from Handels The Alchemist kick-started the evening with a performance that was suitably intimate and expressive, with transparent string textures and balance in evidence from the Broschi Ensembles playing. Much of the same approach was to be felt in their playing of Handels Passacaille from the Trio Sonata Op. 5 no. 4: animated playing, even at the broader tempo that was encouraged by Steven Devine as a foil to the movements main musical argument. Brochis aria Ombre fedele anchio from the opera Idaspe immediately established a sense of shared understanding and purpose between Devine, the Ensemble and Karaferya. The tempo was spacious, but the vocal line evenly sustained and well supported whilst allowing ample opportunities for subtle shading to emphasise the expressiveness of the text.

Karaferyas vocal palette warmed considerably in Dallondoso periglio, from Handels Giulio Cesare. The recitative was carefully enunciated, whilst the aria was sung with a fine sense of legato line and creamy tone. Jaime Akers theorbo playing lent the Ensemble a subtly-discernable tangy edge. Vivaldis aria Nel profondo from Orlando Furioso brought the first half to a close. Replete with ornamentation and dramatic involvement, it proved a highly effective showcase for Cenk Karaferyas keenly focussed and dextrous voice, possessing both brightness in the high register and a pleasing nuttiness in the bottom range.

Three arias were presented after the interval. Porporas Alto Giove from Poliferno was, again, perfectly scaled for the Purcell Rooms intimate acoustic, having at times an almost improvisatory feel to the performance. Five of the twelve movements from Handels Water Music provided an instrumental interlude, with lightness of touch and alert rhythms abounding in the Air and two Minuets. Steven Devine revelled in the intricate workings of the Bourree harpsichord part, whilst the Hornpipe gathered much appropriate weight from Geoff Irwins viola playing and Kate Aldridges neatly deployed double-bass. Se bramante, the last of the Handel offerings, from Serse, found Cenk Karaferya in swaggering, confident form, his voice had by now developed a rounded metallic ring to its tone. A bravura ending, however, was provided in the form of Gelido in ogni vena from Vivaldis opera Il Farnace. Here, everything came together: full sensitivity for the chilling text its words projected cleanly across an often sparing accompaniment; intelligent ornamentation; and confident vocal control allied to dramatic conviction in Cenks facial expressions and gestures. The obvious enthusiasm of the audience should provide sufficient encouragement for others to discover these performers, and when leaving the hall I overheard mention of possible recording plans. The future is full of promise for Cenk Karaferya and the Broschi Ensemble.

Further details of Purcell Room concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk

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