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January 2018

Classic Vienna
Lena Belkina (mezzo-soprano)
Andrea Bacchetti (piano)
Siegfried Schenner (clarinet)
Johannes Maria Bogner (harpsichord)
ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/Andrea Sanguineti
rec. 2015, ORF RadioKulturhaus, Vienna
SONY CLASSICAL 88985441842 [64:14]

I don't normally go in for vocal recitals with arias plucked from hither and thither, but this release is well-conceived and admirable on every level. With orchestral overtures suitably dotted throughout the programme and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra on good form there is plenty of excellent support for Lena Belkina's refined mezzo voice.

The arias chosen are by no means typical, or indeed in some cases familiar. Unless you have done your 18th century opera research this is a field which tends to revolve around Mozart's most mainstream masterpieces, and the programme here by no means goes for easy popularity, even given that we're looking at repertoire for mezzo-soprano rather than soprano. These are arias which often emphasise drama and propel the narrative rather than lingering over bel-canto lyricism. Lena Belkin does gives us sublime moments of expressive beauty amongst the "states of emergency", to paraphrase the title given to Ursula Magnes's booklet essay. A particular highlight is Ch'io mi scordi di te? with its "piano obbligato" part sensitively played by the indefatigable Andrea Bacchetti.

With each composer's work prefaced by an overture or sinfonia, the programme gives the impression of three micro-operas. Gluck's Che puro ciel from Orfeo ed Euridice makes a moving impression, with rippling notes from damped harpsichord strings helping the undulating rhythmic motion along nicely. This contrasts with the impassioned declaration of love Oh, del mio dolce ardor, from the less well-known Paride ed Elena. If nothing else this should certainly inspire exploration of these operas more fully. Haydn's operas appear relatively infrequently on recordings, so it is refreshing to have the final tracks filled with some excellent music from this often underrated master of the indelibly complex libretti with which he frequently had to work. Se non piange un'infelice from the Robinson Crusoe spin-off L'isola disabitata is simply gorgeous, and the final piece from Scena di Berenice has everything, building up from two adventurous recitatives to an aria that ranges from meltingly beautiful to turbulently thrilling, delivered by Belkina with both delicious understatement and the full range of a sublime high register.

Lena Belkina has been a member of the Leipzig Opera and Vienna State opera, with recording credits with composers such as Rossini and Tchaikovsky. This is a young vocal star whose reputation and profile can only be enhanced by this excellent recording. The only disappointment with this release is the lack of the sung texts in the booklet, an absence that prevents it receiving a maximum score in terms of presentation.

Dominy Clements

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Cosi fan tutte, K.588
Ouverture [4:35]
La clemenza di Tito, K.621
Parto, ma tu ben mio [6:47]
Idomeneo, K.366
Il padre adorato [4:00]
Ch'io mi scordi di te? K.505 [10:28]
Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
Armide, Wq.45
Ouverture [4:06]
Orfeo ed Euridice, Wq.30
Che puro ciel [6:30]
Paride ed Elena, Wq.39
Oh, del mio dolce ardor [3:13]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Acide e Galatea
Sinfonia, [6:30]
L'isola disabitata, Hob.XXVIII:9
Se non piange un'infelice [4:21]
Scene di Berenice:
Berenice, che fai? Hob XXiVa:10 [13:46]