Three Baroque Tenors, despite the title's unfortunate connotations with Pavarotti and friends singing My Way (what would the baroque version be of that, one wonders?), is actually a solo album from Ian Bostridge. The album celebrates the legacy of three 18th century tenors, Annivale Pio Fabri, Francesco Borosini and John Beard, whose talents and popularity challenged, and eventually toppled, the hitherto supremacy of castrato singers. Bostridge's rich programme features arias by Conti, Handel, Vivaldi, Gasparini, Arne, Caldara, Scarlatti, Boyce and Galliard. Six of them are recorded here for the first time.
This is a challenging project for Bostridge to have taken on, with its range of vocal registers, styles, and dramatic personae. Annivale Pio Fabri was renowed for his powerful voice, technical virtuosity and mastery of the bel canto (high, florid) and cantabile (exposed, sustained lines over throbbing accompaniment) styles. He inspired Vivaldi to write deeply lyrical vocal lines, and Handel to write one of the most demanding tenor arias of the time. Meanwhile, Francesco Borosini was a brilliant actor with a huge vocal range stretching from baritone to tenor. Both Handel and Gasparini created the role of Bajazet for him. In fact Gasparini's version broke with all conventions to create the first-ever heroic onstage death scene for a tenor. Different again was John Beard, who was talent-spotted by Handel when a chorister. He was most loved for his renditions of ballads, and for his patriotic and rousing themes.
Evidently, Bostridge can't be three different men with three different voices. However, his smooth, supple voice is well able to deal with the multiple styles, the virtuosity, and even the baritone-register passages that one might have anticipated his light tone struggling to do justice to. His superb diction means that you don't miss a word, his ornamentation is elegant and precise, and texts are intelligently interpreted. The English Concert, a natural choice for this repertoire, don't disappoint with their crisp, vibrant performance.