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The heroic figure who, in a frenzy of delusion, destroys the very thing he loves: this is the story of Orlando, but does it also describe René Jacobs and his obsessive tinkering with the score? Jacobs’ interventionist policies have already made him a magnet for controversy, hailed by one critic for his ‘boldness of approach’ and ‘brilliance of effect’, castigated by another for ‘unhistorical’ and ‘unstylish’ lapses that result in ‘horrible aberrations’. How much you enjoy this Orlando may depend on your reaction to his occasionally surprising choices of tempo and, more particularly, to his frequent tampering with Handel’s orchestrations, adding recorders to some arias, for example, and supplementing the continuo with harp, lute, organ and a second harpsichord. Given that Orlando’s music is already glorious, such ‘enhancements’ seem pointless and, on repeated listening, can indeed sound deluded and destructive.

Jacobs’ strengths lie elsewhere. As a star countertenor in the 1970s, he has a special empathy with singers and has said a conductor’s role is ‘to liberate the singers’. The results on Orlando are spectacular: the singing is both passionately committed and richly expressive, with Bejun Mehta (Orlando), Sophie Karthäuser (Angelica) and Sunhae Im (Dorinda) absolutely spellbinding. (NB – the second disc plays for 82+ minutes and may stick or fail to register on some CD players.)

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica


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Early Music Today, 2014 - ©Rhinegold Publishing