Saturday 17 October 2015

Elizabeth Watts’ new recording of Alessandro Scarlatti arias for Harmonia Mundi is one of the finest recital discs I’ve heard for a long time, an absolute joy with delights on every track

British soprano Elizabeth Watts was a chorister at Norwich Cathedral and studied archaeology at Sheffield University, before attending the Royal College of Music. She was selected by Young Classical Artists Trust in 2004 and won the 2006 Kathleen Ferrier Prize. The following year she received the Young Artist Award at the Cannes MIDEM Classique Awards and gained international recognition at the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, winning the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize.

From 2005- 2007 she was a member of English National Opera’s Young Singers Programme, where she appeared as Papagena, Die Zauberflöte; Barbarina, Marriage of Figaro and Music and Hope in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo.  She currently is an Artist in Residence at the Southbank Centre, London and the recipient of a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award. She has given recitals at the UK’s leading venues, including Wigmore Hall, Bridgewater Hall, Purcell Room, Aldeburgh Festival and Cheltenham Festival as well as at prestigious venues and festivals such as the Hardanger Festival in Norway, the Bad Kissinger Summer Festival, Paris and at the Tonhalle, Zürich.

Her recording of cantatas and arias by J. S. Bach for Harmonia Mundi (SACD HMU 807550 with Harry Bicket directing The English Concert was a Gramophone Editor’s Choice.

Elizabeth Watts’ latest recording for Harmonia Mundi  entitled Con eco d’amore brings us arias from Alessandro Scarlatti’s (1660-1725) operas and cantatas. She is joined again by The English Concert  this time directed by Laurence Cummings

HMU 807574
Elizabeth Watts opens with Figlio! Tiranno! O Dio! from the opera Griselda (1721) delivering a gloriously free and flexible performance accompanied by a light textured English Concert. Her high G near the end is terrific.

In Se geloso è Il mio core from the serenata Endimione e Cintia (1705) she shows terrific agility as she competes with the trumpet of Mark Bennett in the rapid phrases, both eventually bringing a quite splendid blend, soprano and trumpet pitch perfect together over a lithe orchestral layer. This is a remarkably fine performance.

Nacque, col Gran Messia from the cantata Non so qual più m ‘ingombra (1716) opens with the finely blended strings of the English Concert. When Watts enters she brings the most lovely tone, beautifully characterised with some really sweetly voiced phrases.

She adds a subtle emotional edge to A questo nuovo affanno from the opera Eraclea (1700) showing how she can find the emotional core of each aria, again with superbly controlled dynamics and tempi.

Mentr'io godo in dolce oblio from the oratorio La Santissima Vergine del Rosario (1707) has a beautifully hushed opening from the English Concert which Watts reflects in a finely nuanced performance with some gentle, exquisitely controlled phrases.

There is a finely hushed opening to Ombre opache from the cantata Correa nel seno amato (1690) as Watts slowly develops this especially beautiful aria. Both the English Concert and Watts draw some spectacularly lovely moments. What fabulous, sensitive vocal control she brings.

Next Elizabeth Watts brings the Recitative, Qui, dove al germogliar and Aria, Torbido, irato, e nero from Scarlatti’s serenata Erminia (1723). In this soprano’s hands the recitative is very emotionally charged before a lovely orchestral passage leads into the aria with Watts bringing terrific agility, never holding back, bringing a real sense of spontaneity with some lovely vocal textures.    

Con voce festiva from 7 Arie con tromba sola (1703-08) opens with the tambourine of English Concert percussionist Robert Howes and the trumpet of Mark Bennett who announce this vibrant, fast flowing aria. Watts soon brings her fine voice, flexible and finding all the rhythmically sprung phrases.

A passionately shaped recitative O vane speme! precedes a glorious aria cara tomba del mio diletto from the opera Mitridate Eupatore (1706) full of pathos, beautifully controlled with Watts bringing the most lovely vocal tone and textures.

The English Concert bring some particularly fine gentle, hushed phrases in the opening of Sussurrando il venticello  from the opera Tigrane (1715) Again, when she joins, Watts reflects the opening instrumental phrases beautifully. The tone of her voice is really remarkably lovely, especially in little details that she never overlooks.

Harpsichord of Laurence Cummings and theorbo of William Carter bring a beautifully sprung opening to the aria Ergiti, Amor, su i vanni from the opera Scipione nelle Spagne (1714), Watts delivering her fluent and flexible voice in this joyful aria.

There are further extracts from the opera Mitridate Eupatore (1706) firstly Esci omai which opens vibrantly with the Concert before violin Huw Daniel brings some very fine textures. Watts joins to take this aria forward, again with a remarkable agility, never losing her beautiful tone throughout all the twists and turns of Scarlatti’s invention. There is a further passage for solo violin and orchestra where Daniel brings some terrific playing before ending on fast and almost Vivaldian string phrases.

Dolce stimolo al tuo bel cor brings a fine flow with fine string sonorities from the English Concert, a beautifully shaped performance from both soloist and orchestra.

Watts brings more terrific fluency to the fast and furious D'amor l'accesa face from the serenata Venere, Amore e Ragione (1706) full of life with superb precision between soloist and ensemble. Watts rises to some exceptionally fine vocal flourishes. Absolutely terrific.

There is much beauty in the lovely aria Io non son di quei campioni from the opera La Statira (1690) finely brought out by this soprano who finds so many subtle nuances.

Finally from the cantata A battaglia, pensieri (1699) we have the Sinfonia and Aria, A battaglia. The English Concert with trumpeter Mark Bennett and timpanist Robert Howes thunder out in the Sinfonia bringing some very fine sounds before leading into the Aria where Watts and Bennett together bring some terrific precision. Watts brings great, freely expressed, characterisation to the part with some spectacularly fine vocal flourishes toward the end.

This is one of the finest aria recital discs I’ve heard for a long time. It is an absolute joy with delights on every track. The English Concert provides terrific support with many fine moments in their own right.  The recording from All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London. England is excellent. There are first rate notes from Simon Heighes plus full texts and English, French and German translations. 

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