The first thing you notice are the asterisks all over the liner notes. They’re on every track bar the opener to denote world premiere recordings of these sometimes outrageously virtuosic Neapolitan arias for the famous castrati. David Hansen’s voice, too, is something of a modern world first.
On his debut solo album he soars across three octaves, so that listeners are left to marvel at his stamina and dexterity in the 13-minute tour de force Son Qual Nave (by Farinelli’s brother Riccardo Broschi) as he flips between octaves – showing off the equally impressive lows – and embellishes impossibly long passages leading to a thrilling da capo high D. Hansen’s interpretation is as close to Farinelli’s as possible, in the version the castrato annotated with his own ornaments. That D is Hansen’s fullest and richest high on the album; at other moments it can get cold up there – occasionally drifting a little sharp despite his care and precision – but it’s a remarkable feat you certainly won’t hear anywhere else.
It was perhaps inevitable that the refined playing of the orchestra Academia Montias Regalis would be outshone by the soloist, but in Leo’s Freme Orgogliosa L’Onda (with one of those climaxes you hope will end on the high octave – and actually does!) they match him with strong, detailed unison strings and vibrant horns. In Bononcini’s Cara Sposa (ever bit as pretty as Handel’s) the voice is in luscious range, more velvet than silk, adorned with a luminous violin obliggato.
Therein lies my only complaint of both soloist and De Marchi’s orchestra: they seem afraid to make anything less than a beautiful sound, handling the music delicately as if with kid gloves. It’s a shame in the presence of such a unique voice, in which anything could be possible if only Hansen didn’t hold back.