JAROUSSKY, Philippe-CENCIC, Max Emmanuel. Duetti. Virgin. 2011. PJ, MC, countertenors; Les Arts Florissants, cond. William Christie.
JAROUSSKY, Philippe. Un Concert pour Mazarin. Virgin/Veritas. 2004 PJ, countertenor; Ensemble Las Fenice, cond. Jean Tubery.
I haven’t listened to much music performed by countertenors so recently I ordered three albums with Philippe Jaroussky, who seems to be the leading performer today. I’m still waiting for the third but the two that arrived are both good. Duetti is a mix of solos and duets featuring Jaroussky and Cenci with the chamber ensemble, Les Arts Florissants, led by keyboardist Kennedy, and composed of two violins, a cello, a theorbo or a lute, and harpsichord or organ. The music is all from early to mid-eighteenth century, duetti da camera (chamber duets), and with the exception of the final duet, “Nel cor del cor mio,” by Alessandro Scarlatti, they are by composers who have for the most part dropped out of our common memory. The music is excellent throughout. Jaroussky sings alone on a three-part suite by Francesco Mancini (Quanta mai saria piu bello). Cencic is the solo voice in Nicola Porpora’s five-part Ecco che il primo albore. The remainder of the pieces, sixteen in all, are sung in duet, a mixture of recitatives, arias and duets. The instrumental ensemble fits the voices magically. It’s just good music.
Still, if I were forced to decide between these two albums, it is the Concert pour Mazarin that would win my vote, solely because there is more variety in the program. The music is all Italian (Mazarin was Italian) and was unearthed from seventeenth-century French manuscript collections. There are compositions by Frescobaldi, Rossi and Monteverdi, as well as lesser known composers of the day (including two by the most prolific composer of all time, “anyonyme”). The sequence of pieces is pleasing: vocal selections are followed by organ solo and by instrumental music by an ensemble dominated by keyboard (organ, clavichord or harpsichord), paired and tripled baroque cornets, two violins, a bassoon and a lute (archilute). The sound of the paired cornets rising over an organ background was … heavenly! Again, Jaroussky sings with complete assurance and his tone, force and articulation are to be praised.