This recording of Handel arias by Max Emanuel Cencic is, perhaps, the finest countertenor recital of the composer's work. The Countertenor + Handel recording is a tried and true formula, and on occasion it becomes a bit tired; however, Cencic's voice is so unique that any qualms about "sameness" are squashed. Let me say that, while the vocal technique is nothing less than amazing, it is the ambiguous gender of the voice that I find to be most interesting. There is something about Cencic's voice that reminiscent of both genders, and at times, one may have trouble recognizing which - male or female - Cencic actually is. This may not appeal to all countertenor fans, but I find it much preferable to the bizarre, hooty sounds that some falsettists make. The voice is obviously male, but there is a certain "metal" to it that one may normally associate with mezzo-sopranos. Ultimately, there is the lung capacity of a male and the true mezzo sound of a woman combined into one, and it truly leads to an extraordinary result.
When listening to Cencic, I can't help but think that there is something to being a child star. Cencic is only in his early 30's, but he's been in the classical music business for more than 20 years, and the experience is telling. Not only does his audience have the benefit of a aurally exciting performance, Cencic provides a depth of knowledge and thought that one would not find in other performers of the same age who do not have the extensive experience under their belts. To that end, I have a hard time deciding which type of aria on this disc is my favorite: bravura aria or slow aria.
"Benche mi sprezzi" from Tamerlano and "Verdi allori" from Orlando are my favorite slow arias. During the length of them, Cencic sings with wonderful breath support, clear line, excellent diction, dramatic truth, and expressive warmth. However, the true test of a Handel recital is the dramatic outbursts of the bravura, coloratura pieces. Some countertenors have difficulty sustaining a clean line and a pleasant sound when singing high, rapid, or difficult coloratura pieces; David Daniels, for example, has a an exquisite tone (perfect for the "simpler" music of Sesto), but gets through the coloratura pieces of Giulio Cesare in a way that makes one long for Jennifer Larmore. Of course, that's just my opinion, and it may not hold true for all, but I certainly don't feel the same way about Cencic's performance in the bravura arias. The aria from Imeneo that opens the album is equally masterful to the rendition performed by Joyce DiDonato on her "Furore" album. Other arias like "Qual Leon" from Arianna in Creta illustrate that Cencic if perfectly comfortable with speedy, complicated coloratura pieces.
The conducting of I Barocchisti by Diego Fasolis is to be commended. He commands crisp, clear playing from the orchestra that allows Cencic to shine but never allows the drama to slip and slide. The tracks with choral participation are aided splendidly by the "Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizerra."
A supreme Handel recital. Highly recommended.