David Vernier, classicstoday.com
Before you read this you should read Bob Levine’s review of Handel arias by countertenor Franco Fagioli. Now that your unfounded concerns regarding the countertenor voice have been thoroughly quelled (if you ever had such concerns), you can freely proceed to assess the merits of this recording—of which there are many—unencumbered by misplaced notions or previous experiences with casually vetted, dubiously credentialed performers. While slightly more than half of the 14 selections on this program feature the alto/countertenor voice, one of the aims of this project is to also explore “the key role given to accompanying instruments”. And we are given ample opportunity to appreciate the different assignments of instruments as either basic accompanists or more active participants, interacting more directly with the soloist.
But the real star here is countertenor Paulin Bündgen, previously unknown to me but who has several earlier, well-regarded recordings for this same label. At least on evidence of the works presented here, his voice exhibits the sound of a true, natural male alto—unaffected, uninhibited, unencumbered by transitions from one register to another (although extremes of range aren’t challenged in these works). His tone is warm, round, and centered—his singing a sheer pleasure to listen to throughout, even in the few extended pieces (from six to 15 minutes).
I would suggest beginning with the piece by Johann Christoph Bach (an older cousin of J.S.), a beautiful and masterfully crafted vocal setting that also fully exploits the instrumental accompaniment—violin, three violas, violone, and continuo—and that’s worthy of a place alongside Sebastian’s most refined sacred works for alto solo (sound clip). Immediately following is an instrumental piece by Georg Böhm that again could be mistaken for a Largo movement by Bach—this originally was a piece for organ that the composer transcribed note for note for strings.
This program is a well-considered, richly rewarding trove of music you may not have known you would care about—but you will, as you make your way through the 80 minutes and 14 pieces, most of which you had never heard before. And as for countertenor Bündgen, I’ll be looking for him from now on. Strongly recommended. © 2018 ClassicsToday.com