Sumi Jo – Baroque Journey
Vivaldi, Handel, Bach, Purcell
Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra
Henk Rubingh, conductor
Warner Classics, 2007
The Baroque Journey that Korean soprano Sumi Jo proposes in her album released in 2007 focuses on the major composers of this prolific and ornamented musical era: Vivaldi, Handel, Bach and Purcell, with a strong predilection for the Halle and Leipzig maestri.
The programme offers an overview of some of the most celebrated arias of the repertoire which, as in the cases of La Griselda and Samson, are the most commonly recorded pieces of these operas or are arias taken from evergreen operas and oratorios as Rinaldo or Messiah. What is peculiar is that this programme is not aimed to give prominence only to Jo’s virtuosity as it might be expected but it is rather a mixture between arie di bravura and other in which the soprano has the chance to express with quietness the tenderest feelings. This is achieved with equal success as it is possible to hear comparing the shining coloratura of Let the bright Seraphim from Samson with Lascia ch’io pianga from Rinaldo, where Almirena’s sadness is expressed with a crystal voice that is incredibly touching.
A less happy result must be registered for the first aria Jo sings after the introductory Larghetto from Nulla in Mundo Pax Sincera. This is the well-known Agitata da due venti from Vivaldi’s La Griselda, a piece that has been placed at this point with the clear intention to create an effective beginning but that unfortunately reveals with too much clarity that to Jo’s silvery and secure high register does not correspond a low register of the same value, something that is even more regrettable considering the beautiful performance of the melismas.
This is not the only weak point of Baroque Journey and I have to mention two more of them. The first is the pronunciation that, although not incorrect, is not particularly accentuated and in English it sounds rather artificial, as it is possible to hear in the many arias sung in this language. This does not prevent some of these arias to be charming and in at least one case (I mean Wher’er You Walk from Handel’s Semele) Jo reaches peaks of unheard-of excellence, to the point that this can be considered one of the best achievements of the entire album.
The second weakness is that, from time to time, Jo seems enchanted by herself and this slows down a little the rhythm of the album, although in this case too there are many happy exceptions, as the aforementioned Let the bright Seraphim or the wonderful Bist Du Bei Mir, an aria written by Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel and formally attributed to Bach.
These flaws are little things compared to Jo’s perfect technique and to the silvery timbre of her voice that do not fail to inspire sympathy in the aria from Bach’s Kaffee Kantata, melancholy in Purcell’s Music for a while (from Oedipus) and unhappiness in Vivaldi’s Sposa son disprezzata (from Tamerlano). This Baroque Journey, then, is an interesting and pleasing album that will give to every listener several moments of absolute bliss.