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17 Dec 2019

'Aspects of Love': Jakub Józef Orliński at Wigmore Hall

Boretti, Predieri, Conti, Matteis, Orlandini, Mattheson: masters of the Baroque? Yes, if this recital by Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński is anything by which to judge.

Jakub Józef Orliński (countertenor) and Il Pomo d’Oro at Wigmore Hall

Above: Jakub Józef Orliński

Photo credit: Jiyang Chen


The young Polish singer has enjoyed a swift elevation to the high ranks of countertenor stardom of late, fuelled by an acclaimed debut album, Anima Sacra (on the Erato label) in 2018, and a celebrated appearance in the role of Eustazio at the start of Glyndebourne’s touring production of Rinaldo this autumn. Orliński has now released a second album, Facce d’amore, with Il Pomo d’Oro under conductor Maxim Emelyanychev, and several of the ‘aspects of love’ delineated therein formed this programme at Wigmore Hall.

This was the first time I had heard Orliński in solo recital. His countertenor has a core of steel which is manipulated with the flexibility of silk. ‘Pure’ seems a puerile word with which to describe his countertenor, which rings fluently but possesses a muscular snap and stamp when required. His breath control is superb: long lines sailed forth effortlessly; curlicues and cascades danced sweetly. For those yet to experience Orliński’s virtuosity and charm, Warner Classics have offered a ‘taster’: Bononcini's 'Infelice mia costanza' was, at Wigmore Hall, an astonishing expressive feat.

The instrumentalists of Il Pomo d’Oro were vigorously enthusiastic, sometimes rather too much so, though this was more noticeable at the start than in the later items, so perhaps it was just a matter of finding the groove. From the first notes of Cavalli’s Sinfonia to La Calisto, the instrumental timbre was modern, edgy and virile - sort of ‘Europe Galante meets Les Arts Florissants’, perhaps. Violinists Zefira Valova and Jonas Zschenderlein formed a dynamically reciprocal partnership; cellist Felix Heinz Knecht was gruffly robust or coolly refined, as was required. Director and harpsichordist Francesco Corti ran a tight ship but allowed the individual players some expressive leeway. Plangent harmonies, as in the Sinfonia from Bononcini’s La nemica d’Amore and at the start of Conti’s ‘Odio, vendetta, amor’ (‘Hatred, revenge, love’, from Don Chisciotte in Sierra Morena), were exploited to the full, and dialogues were vibrant between the individual voices.

Orliński’s lower range is sonorous and full of colour: at times in Cavalli’s ‘Crudo Amor’ (‘Ruthless love’, from Claudio Cesare), and elsewhere, he seemed to be singing in what I imagine is his ‘natural’ baritone. Predieri’s ‘Finchè salvo è l’amor suo’ (‘If I know her love is safe’, from Scipione il giovane) also ranged high and low, conveying both the imagined dangers the beloved one might face and the protagonist’s own fluctuating emotions. The confident running lines of the opening gave way to melodic turbulence, enhanced by pulsing cello gestures: what if a hurricane should place love in danger? In contrast, in ‘Dovrian quest’occhi piangere’ (‘These eyes should weep indeed for you’), from the same opera, the silkily extending lines were heart-winningly clean and fresh, but not wanting for colour.

Boretti’s ‘Chi scherzo con Amor’ (‘Playing with Love’, from Eliogabalo) and ‘Spera, ché tra la care’ (‘Take hope’) from Handel’s Muzio Scevola demonstrated Orliński’s vocal strength and agility to the full. His ability to craft fluctuating idioms and emotions into a coherent whole was evidenced by an assured performance of Handel’s ‘Ah Stigie larve! … Vaghe pupille’ (‘Lovely eyes’, from Orlando) which culminated in a striking declaration of intent, ‘Né calm ail mio furor’ (‘my fury will not be assuaged’), plunging to the depths with angry determination and inspiring a stirring instrumental playout.

Some beautifully woven string textures ushered in ‘Sempre a si veghi rai’ (Faithful to such fair eyes, from Orfeo), which Hasse composed for Farinelli, and in which the relaxed ornamentation of the da capo truly charmed. Orliński concluded with Orlandini’s ‘Che m’ami ti prega’ (‘Your Emperor Nero’, from Nerone) in which he demonstrated all the tricks of the trade with a supreme assurance worthy of the Roman tyrant himself.

If I had any small misgivings then perhaps it was that Orliński pushed his voice a little too hard at times: a sudden dynamic surge could threaten to veer too wildly. And, occasionally I thought that he threw away a cadence rather brusquely. He didn’t make much of the texts, sacrificing verbal clarity for musical poetry and suaveness of line.

But, these are trivial quibbles really. This was a terrific recital and when, at the close, Orliński asked the audience, “Would you like some more?” the answer was never in doubt. He fulfilled the enthusiastic response with not one but four encores, offering more unfamiliar but beguiling fare: Nicola Fago’s ‘Alla gente a Dio diletta’ (fromIl faraone sommerso), ‘Agitato da fiere tempeste’ by Handel ( formRiccardo I re d’Inghilterra), another aria from Boretti’s Eliogabalo, ‘Chi scherza con amor’; and, finally, ‘Vedró con mio diletto’ from Vivaldi’s Giustino.

Throughout the recital, Orliński was direct, personable, generous: he wore his singing heart on the sleeve of his beautiful green suit. And the capacity audience at Wigmore Hall loved it.

Claire Seymour

Jakub Józef Orliński (countertenor), Il Pomo d’Oro (director/harpsichord, Francesco Conti)

Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676) - Sinfonia from La Calisto, ‘Erme e solinghe ... Lucidissima face’; Giovanni Antonio Boretti (c.1638-1672) - ‘Chi scherza con Amor’ from Eliogabalo, Sinfonia and ‘Crudo amor non hai pietà’ from Claudio Cesare; Giovanni Bononcini (1670-1747) - ‘Infelice mia costanza’ from La costanza non gradita nel doppio amore d’Aminta, Sinfonia from La nemica d’Amore fatta amante; Luca Antonio Predieri (1688-1767) - ‘Finchè salvo è l'amor suo’ from Scipione il giovane; Georg Frideric Handel (1685-1759) - Ah! Stigie larve! … Vahge pupille’ from Orlando HWV31, ‘Spera che tra le care gioie’ from Muzio Scevola HWV13; Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783) - ‘Sempre a si vaghi rai’ from Orfeo; Francesco Bartolomeo Conti (c.1682-1732) - ‘Odio, vendetta, amor’ from Don Chisciotte in Sierra Morena;Nicola Matteis (d.1737) - Ballo dei Bagatellieri from Don Chisciotte in Sierra Morena; Predieri - ‘Dovian quest’occhi piangere’ from Scipione il giovane; Giuseppe Maria Orlandini (1676-1760) - ‘Che m’ami ti prega’ from Nerone (arr. Johann Mattheson).

Wigmore Hall, London; Saturday 14th December 2019.

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