Aksel! Arias by Bach, Handel & Mozart
Aksel Rykkvin, treble
Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment
Nigel Short, conductor
Signum Classics, 2016
Aksel! Arias by Bach, Handel & Mozart is the incredible debut recording of Aksel Rykkvin, an extremely young (he is born in 2003) and talented Norwegian treble. Aksel (I dare to call him by name in consideration of his age) sings in the Children’s Chorus of the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet and in the Oslo Cathedral Boys’ Choir, but for some years now he started a career of his own, with special appearances and performances in many official occasions.
Aksel states in the booklet that «the journey leading to this album started when I was nine years old. Listening to famous soaring trebles, I hoped that some day I would record songs to give the listeners the same uplifting experience that I felt». There is anything else to do but to praise this ambitious goal, astonishing in such a young boy.
Many of the works of this recording are more or less strictly linked to Aksel because several of them have been written for young singers, as Bach’s choral works, which were probably performed by boys, and as the first interpreter of the role of Oberto in Handel’s Alcina, William Savage. Other arias were written for adolescent characters, as Mozart’s Cherubino, and in this case the affinity with Aksel is strengthened by Mozart’s own career as a child prodigy.
Apart from these lucky choices, listening to Aksel is a revelation since every aria with no exception seems sung by a little angel. The silvery voice of this boy has something moving and sweet. Bach’s arias, taken from cantatas and oratorios, amaze with the delicacy with which Aksel caresses the notes and with his neat coloratura, a quality that can be appreciated in several other arias, as in Handel’s Happy, Oh Thrice Happy We from Joshua.
With regard to Handel, it is worth remembering the arias from Alcina, Chi m’insegna il caro padre and from Rinaldo, Lascia ch’io pianga, where the greatest charm is to listen to a boy soprano voice expressing such sad feelings. In another aria from Alcina, Barbara, io ben lo so, Aksel shows instead his incredible firmness in the interpretation of Oberto’s anger, something that constitutes an unexpected contrast.
Handel shares with Bach the major part of the recording and I would like to remember only the enchanting in the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, where Aksel reveals his astonishing control of the high notes, before moving to the last three arias, taken from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Exultate, jubilate.
Aksel sings Cherubino’s two arias from Le nozze di Figaro. This is another demanding and successful choice, although the character has no deeper connotation than a youthful innocence. Aksel does not care very much about any peculiar accent to reveal Cherubino’s psychology, but this is a mere consideration and not a blame considering the age of the interpreter and maybe I would not have even noticed this element if Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio and Voi, che sapete were not so famous. Another small defect is Aksel’s diction, not always precise in Italian (I mention here this flaw because it is more recognizable in Mozart’s than in Handel’s arias, although some of them are in Italian too), but this does not prevent to enjoy them. Moreover, it is amusing to listen to Cherubino sung by a boy of almost the same age because it opens a new horizon and the idea to include his two arias in this album is absolutely brilliant. As for the other piece by Mozart, the famous Alleluja from Exultate, jubilate, there is no problem at all as Aksel sings it with valuable nicety and joy.
Lastly, I have to mention the fine conduction of Nigel Short, leading the excellent Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with lively and original spirit – an exquisite accompaniment to a lovely voice.