BBC Music Magazine
The OAE’S period instruments add colour, transparency and texture
the Queen of Babylon prepares to announce her choice of king you can’t help but hear a pre-echo of Verdi’s Aida, still nearly 50 years in the future. Elder always has an ear for the lightness in such episodes, and they sound hearty but never bombastic. The Opera Rara Chorus sings some tough music thrillingly well. Moreover, passages that might sag in a modern-instrument reading gain immensely from the colour, transparency and texture afforded by the OAE’S period instruments. One such example is the recurring horn melody later in that same scene as the queen asks her subjects to swear obedience, which would be just another nice tune on a modern instrument but which here, thanks to the natural horn, demonstrates why the word chromatic can refer to colour as well as sound.
The principals are outstanding, gelling as an ensemble rather than merely being a parade of soloists. Shagimuratova is captivating, tracing the titular queen’s emotional development convincingly and singing with a gleaming soprano that seems to have no upward limit. Barcellona is similarly strong, her Arsace – Commander of the Army – richly drawn, her tone warm and just weighty enough. Barry Banks’s tenor is secure if not always sweet as the Indian King, Idreno; Mirco Palazzi is full of noble villainy as Prince Assur, and, especially impressive, Gianluca Buratto is deliciously cavernous sounding as the high priest Oroe. And with artists of the calibre of tenor David Butt Philip in the cough-and-spit roles, absolutely no corners have been cut.
This is another benchmark recording from Sir Mark Elder and Opera Rara.