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Penguin Guide, January 2009

We already have a Decca recording of Arianna a Naxos by Cecilia Bartoli with András Schiff, but this splendidly sung version with string accompaniment is even more telling, even though the orchestral transcription was not Haydn’s own. Moreover, the performance is especially vivid in the singer’s visual presence, while Harnoncourt accompanies with great sensitivity.

The equally inspired Scena di Berenice is set to a text taken from Metastasio’s Antigono. It has a direct affinity with Arianna. Bartoli’s performance is again very moving, and is most expressively accompanied. The two vocal items are preceded by a vibrant performance of Haydn’s Oxford Symphony which, like Arianna, was very well received during Haydn’s visits to London in the 1790s. This is a characteristic Harnoncourt performance with a rather gruff, even abrasive, first movement that not all will take to. He is more persuasive in the central movements, and the sparkling finale is a joy. Certainly the performance gains from watching the conductor, whose facial expressions are so mobile; and in Brian Large’s directions the camerawork cannot be faulted. The bonuses include a fascinating dialogue between the conductor and singer, who discuss Haydn and his music, and a brief look at the Festival founded by Harnoncourt in Graz, with a little music from a novel instrumental group.

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