Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Antonio Caldara (1671-1736)
Max Emanuel Cencic (counter-tenor), Ornamente 99/Karsten Erik Ose
rec. 2003/2004, German Radio, Funkhaus, Sendesaal, Cologne, Germany; St Hubertus Catholic Church, Düsseldorf-Itter, Germany
Texts and translations included
Bonus DVD
Capriccio C7142 [3 CDs: 60+60+62]

There is here one CD each with the cantatas by Antonio Vivaldi, Domenico Scarlatti and Antonio Caldara. The bonus DVD offers a portrait of the countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic. I would recommend watching the DVD first as it provides a wonderful background to the career of the singer. He was born in 1976 in Zagreb to a conductor father and opera singer mother. An early visit, as a child, to a performance of Mozart’s Magic flute aroused a fascination with the coloratura aria of the Queen of the Night, and stirred an interest and love of singing. We are given short excerpts of filmed performances of him as a child performing in various concerts. He eventually became a child-star, partaking in opera and becoming a member of the famous Vienna Boy’s Choir. Tours followed and he particularly liked the reception he received in Japan. As he got older he came to the realization that his voice would remain soprano, so he studied the countertenor repertoire. He toured Japan, Europe and America. In 1995 he performed the part of Amor in Gluck’s Orfeo, in Vienna.

He’s interviewed in what appears to be his flat, dressed in ostentatious attire, against a backdrop of his CD collection. He relates how he eventually suffered a crisis of identity and this resulted in depression, and he had to cancel a tour of Japan half-way through. The documentary then charts his efforts at a comeback and the rebuilding of his career. A performance in Basel in Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea earned him `Best New Singer of the Year 2003′ from German music critics. He refers to himself as a male mezzo-soprano. The DVD also shows him in performance. We also get glimpses of him shopping, cooking and entertaining friends and family to dinner.

Cencic is accompanied on the CDs by the baroque group Ornamente 99, under the direction of Karsten Erik Ose. The group provides excellent light rhythmical accompaniment throughout, never sounding heavy or tedious. In the Vivaldi aria `Ah, ch’infelice sempre’ from the cantata Cessate, omai cessate, for instance, they provide a beautifully pointed accompaniment. The cantatas from all three composers explore the full range of human emotions. Centric meets the challenges with brilliant technique and beauty of tone. His voice delivers a wide spectrum of colour. Here is a singer who is totally comfortable within his range. Note his range and virtuosity in the aria `Nell’ orrido albergo’ again from Cessata, omai cessate. I love the beautiful clear florid passages in Scarlatti’s aria `Se mi dirai’ from the Cantata Tinte a note di sangue. He has wonderful smooth legato in the aria `Non v’e pena’ from the cantata of the same name by Caldara. Here, there is a wonderful interplay between  singer and  instrumentalists.

Production values are excellent in every respect. The acoustic is warm and bright allowing the textures of the music to emerge with clarity and definition. Booklet notes are informative and texts and translations are included.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf (February 2013)

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Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

O mie porpore più belle RV 685
Cessate, omai cessate RV 684
Care selve, amici prati RV671
Alla Caccia dell’alme e de’ cori RV 670
Amor, hai vinto RV 683
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Pur nel sonno almen tal’ora
Tinte a note di sangue
Scritte con falso inganno
Dir vorrei
Antonio Caldara (1671-1736)
Sempre mi torna in mente
Non v’è pena
Da tuoi lumi
Chiacona – instrumental
Amante recidivo (Che speravi)
Vedrò senz’onde il mare

DVD – Max Emanuel Cencic: The Portrait
Subtitles: German, French, English
Picture Format NTSC Colour 4:3;
DVD Format DVD5:
Sound Format 2.0 stereo