SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

“Io Vidi in Terra” = Jose Lemos, countertenor/ Jory Vinikour, harpsichord/ Deborah Fox, Theorbo – Sono Luminus Pure Audio Blu-ray+CD

Countertenors seem to me quite artificial in nature. But artists like Lemos stand previous assumptions on their head.

Published on October 25, 2013

“Io Vidi in Terra” = Jose Lemos, countertenor/ Jory Vinikour, harpsichord/ Deborah Fox,  Theorbo – Sono Luminus Pure Audio Blu-ray+CD

“Io Vidi in Terra” = Jose Lemos, countertenor/ Jory Vinikour, harpsichord/ Deborah Fox,  Theorbo – Sono Luminus Pure Audio Blu-ray (7.1 DTS HD MA 24/192 kHz, 5.1 DTS HD MA 26/96 kHz, or 2.0 LPCM 24/192 kHz) + standard CD DSL-92172, 52:44 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:  

I don’t like countertenors; I’ve said it before and will undoubtedly do so again. There is just something about the upper register that sounds so affected, false, phony, and feminine that it gives me the willies. Just as I would not like to hear a woman singing bass so I don’t want to hear a man singing soprano. Perhaps if I had lived to hear someone like Alessandro Moreschi in his prime I would feel differently, but I doubt it. And the countertenor, originating from the use of male altos in choirs, was eventually expected to try and supplant the castrati once that era ended. But there was never a real repertory created for them specifically, although some composers today have sought to reinvigorate their status. Alfred Deller is certainly responsible for the modern resurgence, though I found his voice extremely disquieting to listen to.

So essentially the voice is an artificial creation with a technique that stretches what a male voice is supposed to sound like, and though the best examples today have found ways to strengthen the upper register—though it will never approach the power of the castrati—it still sounds to me like someone who is over-chesting his falsetto voice. The problem for me is that these most recent artists have truly developed a formidable technical facility, and many of them are superb musicians as well. Jose Lemos is certainly one of these, as his renditions of these early Baroque gems aptly demonstrate. This period is often ignored by the public at large, coming as it does before the ascendency of such forms as the Aria da capo, yet taking the more declamatory aspects of the late Renaissance and expanding them into a form that essentially defines the modern-day song structure. All this happens in Italy primarily of course, and the greatest composers of that age—led by Monteverdi—touched on the castrato, himself brought into being by a mid-sixteenth century Vatican decree forbidding women singers, though the castrato was not unknown even in fifth-century Byzantium.

This recital touches on many of the finest works for the high male genre (for want of a better term) and reveals the sources to be spectacularly beautiful in content and even so—sometimes—in poetry as well.  The audio on this excellent Blu-ray audio disc is fantastic, as are most releases from Sono Luminous. Lemos has chosen two of the best companions of the early music scene, Jory Vinikour and Deborah Fox, and their contributions cannot be underestimated. Lemos himself is a marvel; rarely have I encountered such perspicacious musicianship among any artists of any kind, and this almost makes me re-evaluate my stance on these fine sky-high fellows. Almost—I will never embrace this genre, not after 40 years of listening to them, and truly wish the whole thing would go away. But while they are here, superb performers like Jose Lamos certainly ease the pain. [Could the poorer sonic quality of Alfred Deller’s recordings possibly have been a factor here?...Ed.]

TrackList:

Tarquinio Merula: Su la cetra amorosa
Marco Da Gagliano: Io vidi in terra angelici costumi
Bernardo Storace: Aria sopra la Spagnoletta
Claudio Monteverdi: Si dolce e’l tormento, SV 332
Benedetto Ferrari: Ardo
Claudio Monteverdi: Quel sguardo sdegnosetto, SV 247
Alessandro Piccinini: Partite variate sopra La Folla
Barbara Strozzi: L’amante segreto
Bernardo Storace: Balletto
Girolamo Alessandro Frescobaldi: Cosi mi disprezzate, Aria di passacaglia; Se l’aura spira
Tarquinio Merula: Canzonetta spiritual

—Steven Ritter




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