Limelight Editor’s Choice – Orchestra – September 2014

Deutsche Grammophon’s reboot of period performance imprint Archiv has definitely got off to a flying start, with stylish Spanish conductor Pablo Heras-Casado and acclaimed period instrument band Concerto Köln serving up fiery musical tapas from Baroque rock star Farinelli’s Spanish sojourn.

In 1737 King Philip V invites Carlo Broschi aka Farinelli, the greatest castrato of all time, to Madrid to sing solely for him. He accepts. After Philip’s death, Ferdinand VI appoints Farinelli artistic director of the palace theatres in Madrid’s Buen Retiro and Aranjuez. In his new role as impresario, Farinelli collaborates closely with librettist Pietro Metastasio and uses his extensive Neapolitan contacts to secure the services of some of the finest composers and musicians of the day. The results are game-changing.

“Farinelli secured the services of the finest composers and musicians of the day”

In his 12 years in the job, Farinelli succeeded, as Michael Church writes in his program notes, in raising the profile of Spanish music from “a kind of provinciality to being a major presence in the European mainstream”. Heras-Casado, whose own Aranjuez-based group La Compania Teatro del Principe specializes in music from the court of Ferdinand VI, has put together a mainly orchestral program “designed to reflect Farinelli’s achievement as an impresario and its galvanizing effect on music in Spain”.

Here are operatic overtures by Neapolitan composers such as Nicola Conforto and Farinell’s singing teacher, Nicola Porpora. Here are excerpts from Spanish composer José de Nebra’s zarzuelas and from the operas of Italians such as Francesco Corradini who made Spain their home. Here are sinfonias by German composers such as Johann Adolf Hasse, who regularly collaborated with Metastasio and who was one of Farinelli’s favourite composers, and CPE Bach, whose Sinfonia in E Minor “Fandango” demonstrates the influence of Spanish music on his own. And of course, here are vocal operatic excerpts such as the famous Alto Giove from Porpora’s Polifemo and the wonderful fandango duet from Nebra’s zarzuela Vendado es amor, no es ciego.

A tasty menu indeed. Which would however count for little without the considerable skill with which master chef Heras-Casado deploys his forces, and these performances are never less than totally exhilarating. Though paradoxically – and this despite Mehta’s crisply characterized and affecting vocal contributions – it’s amid the Sturm und Drang of CPE Bach’s E Minor Sinfonia that Heras-Casado most convincingly locates that Spanish predilection for emotional and spiritual extremes.