It is a possible pitfall for any recital, perhaps particularly those of Baroque operatic repertoire, to boast of a programme of crowd-pleasers but without any thematic or narrative links between the pieces, leaving the listener somewhat wanting. No such concerns could be raised about Emőke Baráth and Philippe Jaroussky’s Handel recital at Müpa, however.

Philippe Jaroussky and Emőke Baráth
© Attila Nagy, Müpa Budapest

The programme, devised mainly by Jaroussky, was a pasticcio of sorts, carefully crafted from excerpts of Handel’s operas (heavily featuring Ariodante) and the Op.6 Concerti grossi to depict a typically Baroque love story. The arias and duets moved from joyful celebration of love through heartbreak, jealousy, anger and, finally, reconciliation and serene affection again, succeeeding in giving the concert a good arc and making the programme feel like a coherent whole rather than just showcasing bravura pieces. At the same time, it still gave plenty of opportunity for the singers to display vocal beauty and technical mastery to full effect, and the orchestral pieces were well-chosen both to connect the arias and to let the Ensemble Artaserse’s spirited playing shine.

The partnership between Jaroussky and Baráth is relatively new, going back four years, but it’s a greatly promising one, having the makings of a dream team. Not only are both singers ideally suited to this repertoire, but they also showed great chemistry, performing in perfect harmony.

Although Jaroussky was unfortunately grappling with a cold, and consequently struggled with some higher notes and had trouble projecting at times, he turned in a fantastic performance. His remarkably sweet tone was unmarred and his deeply expressive, virtuosic singing impressed throughout, shining in the lyrical pieces and especially memorable in a heartrendingly sung “ Scherza infida”. His voice blending with the silvery soprano of Emőke Baráth was something magical: their voices melted together so perfectly that at times one couldn’t even tell them apart. Their duets were a definite highlight of the evening, especially the achingly beautiful “Io t’abbraccio”, ending the first half, and a delightful and beautifully ornamented “Bramo aver mille vite”, closing the programme. In between these more conventional love duets, though, the hilarious lovers’ spat of “Troppo oltraggi la mia fede” was also a much appreciated choice, allowing for a comedic break in the middle of the high-strung drama.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse
© Attila Nagy, Müpa Budapest

Emőke Baráth has been well-known to the Hungarian audience as an outstanding performer of early music and alongside Jaroussky she held her own wonderfully, keeping a remarkable beauty of tone through her entire range and dazzling with effortless coloratura. The sensitivity of her singing was most impressive in the second half of the concert, regal and poignant in “ Se pietà”, then energetic and jubilant in “Scoglio d'immota fronte”.

Under the enthusiastic leadership of Raul Orellana, Ensemble Artaserse played with consummate energy, producing a warm, vibrant sound that filled the hall, and great dramatic intensity that truly enlivened their performance. Though all members of the ensemble played marvellously, bassoonist Nicolas André's performance was particularly noteworthy, his playing shining in the obbligatos for “Se pietà” and “Scherza infida”.

Even allowing for Jaroussky's slight indisposition, this was an excellent concert with excellent performers, received by the audience with thunderous applause. I can only hope an album will eventually follow this tour: this programme is more than worthy of being recorded for posterity.