Friday, 15 March 2013

Extreme brilliance - Julia Lezhneva - CD Reviews

Julia Lezhneva DECCA 0289 478 5241
Russian soprano Julia Lezhneva, just 23 years old, has recorded a CD of baroque and classical motets, by Vivaldi, Handel, Porpora and Mozart, with Italian early music group Il Giardino Armonico under conductor Giovanni Antonini. Lezhneva has been making something of a name for herself and she does not disappoint on this new disc. The repertoire might be somewhat niche; the Porpora motet is a world premiere recording. But every lover of the voice will want to hear Lezhneva's stunning performances.


She opens with Vivaldi's motet In furore. This is one of a group of motets for soprano which date from one of Vivaldi's visits to Rome in the 1720s. The motet sets a general text which isn't specific to any particular time of the year. The opening movement describes God's wrath and punishment and the ensemble starts with a vivid gusts of melody, echoed by Lezhneva's brilliant opening gesture. She has a lyric voice which is very full toned, bright and focused  with an attractive Slavic edge to it but without any of the distinctive vibrato associated with older generations of Slavic sopranos. She has a wonderful way with baroque passagework, and the adjective brilliant kept re-occurring in my descriptions - both in its sense of brilliantly done, but also the brilliant shine she brings to the passage-work.

This is followed by a recit in which the singer asks God to spare her, and Lezhneva displays a nice sense of line. The aria Tunc meus fletus describes weeping turned to joy, there's a great feel of a nocturne here with Lezhneva giving the vocal line lovely shape and line whilst preserving quite a confiding tone and displaying some beautifully floated high notes. In the final Alleluia, the infectiously lively accompaniment complements Lezhneva's simply brilliant delivery.

Handel's Saeviat Tellus Inter Rigores is a solo motet from 1707, Handel's period in Italy. It is part of a group of works which are presumed to have been written for the vespers service at the Carmelite church. The text of the motet is a very Carmelite specific one. The opening aria describes how earth rages and Lucifer roars but the Carmelites need not be afraid. Handel starts with trumpets and Il Giardino Armonico give an infectious performance, which Lezhneva matches with considerable elan, by turns commanding and intimate, with some lovely ornamentation in the da capo.

The following recit describes how the Virgin appeared to Pope Honorious at night (it was Honorius who confirmed the Carmelites' Rule). Sentiments echoed in the next aria, O nox dulcis (O sweet night) which Handel sets as a slow aria. Here Lezhneva floats lovely long lines, creating a movingly serene atmosphere, again with fine, floated high notes. The next aria Stellae fidae describes duty of the stars to save the Carmelites from the world, here we have a continuo aria with a lovely obligato cello and Lezhneva displaying fine control. The second recit, which is short and dramatic, describes how the Carmelites triumph under the Virgin's tutelage. The piece concludes with an Alleluia, dispatched with stylish bravura.

Nicola Porpora's cantata In caelo stele care fulgescant receives its world premiere recording on this disc. Porpora nowadays is perhaps best known as the teacher of the castrato, Farinelli. His considerable body of work is notable for his skill in displaying the vocal talents of his singers. In In caelo stele care fulgescant, which dates from 1744, when the composer was in Venice and writing for female pupils at the musical hospitals, the Incurabili and the Ospedaletto. It is clear that he was writing for someone with a talent for ornament, the vocal line being full of little ornaments (mordents, trills etc), which create a very distinctive feel. The cantata is in the traditional four movements, the opening aria In caelo stele clare fulgescant followed by a recit Exulta, exulta o cor, then a second aria Care Deus cordis amantis and concluding Alleluia. Porpora's style is very much towards the galant here, particularly in the accompaniment which nicely sets off the elaborate vocal line. The opening aria is given in an extremely infectious manner, followed by a rather dramatic accompanied recitative in the operatic manner. Lezhneva displays elegance and wonderful control in the second aria, ensuring that the ornamental nature of the vocal line seems to grow naturally out of the music. The concluding Alleluia is suitably bravura.

Finally on the disc we have perhaps the best known item, Mozart's Exsultate Jubilate which was written in 1773 in Milan, for the castrato Veneziano Rauzzini who performed in Mozart's Lucio Silla the previous year and was a favourite performer of the composer's. Il Giardino Armonico give the instrumental opening of the work a crisp shape, with a nicely brisk tempo and Lezhneva again complements this with a fine sense of line. She performs whole motet with a lovely feeling for line, in a nicely affecting manner. Naturally, the concluding Alleluia is performed brilliantly.

Lezhneva has a fascinating voice, which she uses with great technical brilliance combined with strong musicality. In all these motets, the bravura of her singing was only part of the question, she displays a nice feel for the music and style. It is difficult to describe in words the intense way that Lezhneva conveys this music.

She is admirably supported by Il Giardino Armonico under Giovanni Antonini, whose accompaniments are infectiously stylish and match Lezhneva's intense brilliance.

This is definitely a must-have disc.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741) - In furore iustissimae irae, RV.626 [13.57]
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Saeviat Tellus Inter Rigores, HWV 240 - Motetto per la Madonna Santissima del Carmine [18.17]
Nicola Porpora (1686 - 1768) - In Caelo Stele Clare Fulgescant [14.07]
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791) - Exsultate, jubilate, K.165 [14.13]
Julia Lezhneva (soprano)
Il Giardino Armonico
Giovanni Antonini (conductor)
Recorded October 2012, Sala 1 - Pau Casals, L'Auditori de Barcelona, Spain
DECCA 1CD 0289 478 5241 [60.44]

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