Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Orliński gives Fux (along with Almeida, Lotti, Vivaldi and others)

10 February 2022

Baroque and roll star Jakub Józef Orliński wows at the Wigmore Hall.

Jakub Józef Orlińsky

Jakub Józef Orliński & il Pomo d’Oro (Photo: Barry Creasy)

Countertenor voices can range from piercingly shrill to a kind of bosomy contralto, but the sweet spot (for me, at any rate) lies in between: a straight(ish) tone that is nonetheless full of the uniquely gender-fluid character that makes the voice type worth cultivating. Jakub Józef Orliński – who, as well as featuring as Didymus in the Royal Opera’s production of Theodora is currently enjoying a residency at Wigmore Hall – has a magnificent voice that falls right into that sweet spot. There’s a liquid quality to the tone that’s syrupy (in the nicest kind of way), but piquant rather than fruity; the mot juste might be ‘resinous’. And the astonishing thing is that this travels unaltered through the length of his considerable range.

Before a further exploration of Orliński’s tour-de-force second Wigmore residency recital on Thursday, though, it’s worth taking a moment to praise his supporting instrumental ensemble, il Pomo d’Oro. In recent years, Orliński and the band have made three critically acclaimed albums of Baroque material together, and their synergy shows in live performance. There’s texture here aplenty – a great mix of continuo instruments, some bravura playing from the violins (Zefira Valova in particular), a gorgeously soft tone from Giulio d’Alessio’s solo viola moments, and some exciting percussive whoomphs from the low strings. The instrumental movements showcased these without the glittering star of the evening, and were joys in themselves: the mannered movements from Janez Tolar’s Balletto à 4, a couple of movements from Baldassare Galuppi’s C-minor Concerto à 4, and Giuseppe Brescianello’s Chaconne in A – a piece on a ground, whose harmonic progressions might have become boring in other hands, here elevated to a joyful exercise in texture and emotional trajectory under the sure direction of Francesco Corti.

“There’s a liquid quality to the tone that’s syrupy (in the nicest kind of way)…”

But Orliński was the star that drew the crowds, and the ticket price was well worth it. Some of the material was from his two Anima… albums, but some enchanting new repertoire was given an outing after centuries of neglect: the busily melismatic ‘Gratias agimus’ from David Perez’s 5 part Mass, for example (with its final delicate organ and voice cadenza), or Nicola Conti’s agile Salve sis, O Mater pia – which not only gave Orliński the chance to demonstrate his mastery of intense, held notes of changing dynamic, but was followed by an utterly charming theorbo cadenza leading us into Francisco Almeida’s ‘Giusto Dio’.

The moments of delight kept on coming, from the opening lyrical ‘Non t’amo per il ciel’ by Johann Joseph Fux, through demonstrations of beautifully controlled leaps in pitch in ‘Giusto Dio’, the ‘wall of death’ runs and vocal bugle notes (as well as the ‘wait for it’ cadenza) in Gaetano Schiassi’s ‘A che si serbano’, a sublime demonstration of Orliński’s lower register (with some distinctly sensual chest-voice notes) in Vivaldi’s ‘Peccator videbit’, to almost an entire piece of dynamic play on the syllable ‘Ah’ in Handel’s D-minor antiphon Amen, Alleluia.

Orliński is a great communicator; his interactions with the audience were full of bonhomie on both sides, and his physical reaction to the music is undeniable – you can see the emotion in his body language. But herein was the smallest of niggles about the concert: apart from an encore piece (Nicola Fago’s ‘Alla gente a Dio diletta’), the concert was sung entirely from score. The reasons are understandable – a busy opera schedule and some new material – but this is, after all, a residency, and learning works is part of what preparing a recital programme is about. The icing on the cake would have been to have all that communication uninterrupted by the necessity of eyes on music.

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More on Jakub Józef Orliński
Orliński gives Fux (along with Almeida, Lotti, Vivaldi and others)
Jakub Józef Orliński @ Wigmore Hall, London