Cecilia Bartoli – Antonio Vivaldi
Jean-Christophe Spinozi, conductor
Cecilia Bartoli & the Rediscovery of Baroque Gems
2018 marks the thirtieth year of Cecilia Bartoli’s collaboration with Decca and, to celebrate, the British label has released the mezzosoprano’s second Vivaldi album after the one dating to 1999.
Bartoli has made a name for herself as a Baroque virtuosa, but she is also interested in the rediscovery of forgotten masterpieces. She is never content with performing some of the most impressive arias of the repertoire, but she constantly looks for new material or little known pieces of music to reveal. Just to mention one of her most significant achievements in recent years, she is one of the authors of the rediscovery of an important composer as Agostino Steffani, of whom she recorded the Stabat Mater with Diego Fasolis.
These efforts is absolutely praiseworthy, but Bartoli is equally famous for her exploits, which leads to controversial results. Her new Vivaldi album is no exception. Next to a commendable commitment to rediscovery, Bartoli’s eccentricities are the other, unavoidable ingredient.
Cecilia Bartoli & Antonio Vivaldi: Overview
These eccentricities appear clearly when Bartoli sings coloratura arias. Rather than her perfect intonation and her undeniable flair for vocal acrobatics, it is her hysterical way of singing that attracts the listener’s attention. In Se lento ancora il fulmine from Argippo, her high notes are too vehement, almost screamed, while in the aria from Tito Manlio (Combatta un gentil cor) her frenzy seems to have completely overwhelmed her. Therefore, several times in these arias Bartoli is graceless rather than stunning.
Fortunately, there are also rational “pauses” between these moments. Perhaps a much more relaxed tempo exerts its influence on this respite. Anyway, an aria as Solo quella guancia bella from La verità in cimento is delightfully and soberly performed. This is definitely a lovely piece of Baroque, where agility, intonation and adequately charming expression are happily combined.
As for the slow arias, Bartoli usually sings them with intensity and concentration, though at times her pathos is mawkish. I am referring in particular to the aria from Catone in Utica. Furthermore, her wide vibrato makes more difficult (though not impossible) to appreciate her overall good phrasing and incisiveness. This is a pity especially in a lovely aria as Sovente il sole from Andromeda liberata, where Bartoli is almost successful in her expression of melancholy and rapturous contemplation.
In the end, Bartoli’s new Vivaldi album is not so different from her previous achievements. She is a precise singer, who is profoundly committed to her art both from the point of view of performance as well as research, but not always this keen enthusiasm is accompanied by the most outstanding rendition.