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Cenčić/Orkiestra Historyczna review – a countertenor of intelligence and flair

·2-min read

Countertenor Max Emanuel Cenčić’s concert with the Polish period ensemble Orkiestra Historyczna juxtaposed arias by Handel with music by composers he regarded as rivals: from Porpora, who directly challenged Handel’s dominance on his effective home turf by travelling to London, to Vinci and Hasse, who did so at a more discreet distance from the continental mainland.

Cenčić has long been an outstanding recitalist, and everything was done with the combination of intelligence and flair that we have come to expect from him. His voice, warm, even and velvety, remains exceptionally beautiful, with little sense of pressure in his upper registers. Exemplary breath control allows him to spin out the long lines of Se dolce m’era gia from Handel’s Floridante with exquisite ease, while his coloratura was dazzling in such bravura showstoppers as Non sempre oprar da forte from Hasse’s Cajo Fabricio, with which he brought his programme to a close. Allowing sound and line rather than textual intervention to carry emotional meaning, he can often be remarkably intense: Deggio morire, o stelle, from Handel’s Siroe, fluctuating between sadness and resentment and preceded by a sorrowing, wonderfully phrased recitative, was one of the evening’s high points.

Orkiestra Historyczna, under its leader, Martyna Pastuszka, meanwhile, is a handsome-sounding ensemble with a nice line in understated dexterity, particularly appealing in Handel and Vinci. When Cenčić was away from the platform, though, they gave us an uneven set of works by Handelian contemporaries active in Britain. Geminiani’s Violin Sonata in G, Op 1 No 1, with Pastuszka a fine soloist, was given in an arrangement by his pupil Charles Avison, alongside the latter’s own, grandly beautiful Concerto grosso No 6. Three Concerti grossi by Dublin-based Francesco Scarlatti, though, felt like overkill, despite playing of clarity and distinction. Francesco’s reputation has always suffered in comparison with that of his brother Alessandro and nephew Domenico; his music lacks the sensuousness of the former, and the latter’s sheer brilliance.

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