Sacred Baroque arias
Jakub Józef Orliński (countertenor)
Il Pomo d’Oro
Francesco Corti (director & organ)
Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers
Reviewed: 11 February, 2022
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
In the midst of his appearances at the Royal Opera House in its staging of Handel’s oratorio Theodora, Jakub Józef Orliński gave this recital of sacred arias from the Baroque period, hitherto largely unknown until rediscovered from their manuscript sources in recent times and seldom heard. Handel featured as the composer of the final item, a fairly austere setting in D-minor simply of the words ‘Amen Alleluia’ – one of several he wrote, perhaps as a vocal exercise but nobody knows for sure. Orliński sang this vocalise – accompanied by Il Pomo d’Oro’s continuo section alone – with an intense focus and control, making of it an almost mystical meditation by this Protestant composer.
All the other arias in this programme were written by Italian musicians in their native tongue or Latin, as well as by foreign composers working within the Italian cultural framework. Just as that country’s operatic tradition was paramount throughout many of the theatres of Europe, so its vocal style permeated much liturgical and religious music around the Continent. The steady, mellow quality of Orlinski’s generally seamless singing suited the comparative dignity and restraint of this music, rather than indulging in operatic embellishment and gesture.
The busier, bustling numbers called forth from him a brighter, even steelier, execution, for instance in Antonio Lotti’s surprisingly upbeat ‘Proh quantae sunt’ (ruing the prevalence of slaughter in the world); or in the ‘Gratias agimus tibi’ from the Mass a5 by the Neapolitan composer of Spanish origin, David Perez, an almost Classical piece with a vivid vocal melody over repeated bass notes, rounded off with a playful little cadenza between Orliński and Francesco Corti on the organ. The taunting of the sinners in ‘Peccator videbit’ from Vivaldi’s late Psalm setting Beatus Vir, RV795 elicited a musical snarl from Orliński before launching into the more tightly articulated tirade of notes, often at fairly low range, and coloured with a sort of curdled tone reminiscent of a mezzo soprano such as Sonia Prina.
In slower music Orliński was more characteristically mellow, as in the gently sustained line of the prayer to God, ‘Giusto Dio’ from Portuguese composer Francisco Antonio de Almeida’s Roman oratorio La Giuditta, or in ‘Non t’amo per il ciel’ from Johann Fux’s Il fonte della salute aperto dalla grazia nel Calvario, where the voice picked up something of the smoky tone of its introductory viola solo, in an aria that could have come from a Bach Passion. More incision was brought to bear in the more intercessory arias, Georg Reutter’s ‘D’ogni colpa la copla maggiore’ from La Betulia liberate, and ‘Dal beato eccelso volo’ from Bartolomeo Nucci’s Il David trionfante – a piece whose galant style with lilting triplet and dotted figures, and throbbing rhythms makes one want to hear more of this composer.
Il Pomo d’Oro were not merely accompanists but, under Corti’s direction from the organ, always a stylish partner, delineating the mood for each item. In order to link Nicola Conti’s lively ‘Salve sis, o Mater pia’ with the ethereal chords of the aria by de Almeida, theorbist Miguel Rincón Rodriguez skilfully modulated between those widely contrasting temperaments with a brief connecting improvisation, winding the tempo and harmonies down appropriately. The recital was interspersed with various items for instruments alone, opening with a sonorous adagio Intrada, giving way to an impulsive Allegro, both from the Balletto a4 No.1 by Janez Krstnik Tolar. In two movements from Galuppi’s Concerto No.4 in C-minor, a desolate Grave led into an Allegro whose Corellian suspensions were not reverently smoothed out but played with nuanced vigour. The infectious rhythmic drive of Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello’s Chaconne in A, whose contrapuntal interplay was delivered with panache, provided a riveting climax to the instrumental pieces.
The calm assurance of Orlinski’s singing stood as the consistent thread through this rewarding programme, rounded off with three encores: first, ‘Alla gente a Dio diletta’ from Nicola Fago’s Il Faraone sommerso, alongside repetitions of ‘Giusto Dio’ and ‘A che si serbano’ from Gaetano Maria Schiassi’s Maria Vergine al Calvario, the vocal line again secure but warm amidst the thrilling, rolling string accompaniment.