The latest concert from the enthralling German countertenor Andreas Scholl - Senesino: Handel's Muse - is a recital of shivering beauty and elegance. What shone through was the spellbinding purity and restraint of his singing, and his exquisite characterisation. "Cara sposa" from Handel's Rinaldo was laced with tender yearning, the vocal line echoed by cello and violone grieving in sympathy, and strings fading to next to nothing for the da capo reprise.
Scholl's accompanists, the Ravenna-based Accademia Bizantina, under Ottavio Dantone, are a deliciously enticing ensemble. Finely led by Riccardo Minasi, who furnished much of the sensitive obbligato detail - the coloratura passages of Lotti's "Discordi pensieri", from Teofane, were ravishing - the group showed its versatility with perfect phrasing, slick arpeggios and pecking falling octaves in the teasing chaconne of a rearranged Vivaldi concerto.
How many of Albinoni's 50 or so operas does one hear today? Or by Handel's rival, Porpora? Both have something of Handel's gift, musing on a handful of lines or two short stanzas, to tease out the emotional tensions of a character wrenched between hope and despair. Albinoni's "Selvaggi amenita", from Engelberta, is a sensationally beautiful aria, in which Scholl's vexed Lombard king casts around for peace of mind amid the courtly pressures. His delivery here created a profound feeling of desolation as the aria built to a compelling climax.
What lent added pleasure to "Dove sei" from Rodelinda was the prefacing of the aria by the dramatic arioso "Pompe vane", where Scholl's gift for recitative shone through. He launched every phrase perfectly, and rounded off to perfection, every line thought through and executed accordingly. There was no singer's ego, simply a dedication to text and to delivering Handel's line with restraint and impeccable tuning.
Perhaps the real hero was Symphony Hall's ultra-refined acoustic, and Scholl was cheered to its scarlet and gold rafters. Jolly well right, too.