The more I learn about music, the less I realize I know. I used to think that the male voice was generally divided into three groups: tenor, baritone and bass. It turns out I missed an important one—the countertenor, such as Sergejs Jēgers, whose first compact disc Ave Musica was released earlier this year.
The countertenor sings in a register higher than a tenor. I am an average tenor and struggle to hit a high G in my natural voice, but a countertenor easily reaches it, as well as many notes above.
Countertenors are rare. Apart from being popular during the Baroque period of classical music, they haven’t had much opportunity to shine. However, countertenors have recently returned to the spotlight, and one of the leaders of the renaissance is Latvia’s own Jēgers.
I first heard Jēgers sing at a concert in the Small Guild Hall in Rīga. At that point, I had no idea what a countertenor was, or even who Jēgers was. I was rather surprised at the way he sang, in an upper range that far surpassed anything I had heard. To be honest, had I only heard and not seen him, I would have automatically assumed that it was a woman who was singing, such was the upper range. That took a bit of getting used to, but when I did I had a much greater appreciation for the work of Jēgers and countertenors in general, and a greater respect for what he has accomplished in the Latvian classical music scene.
On Ave Musica, Jēgers sings many classic songs from the Baroque period, selected not just because most works for countertenor are from that period of time, but also because the era is especially dear to Jēgers. The songs were recorded in the Rīga Anglican Church. Jēgers is accompanied by the Baroque Orchestra of Latvia, conducted by Andris Veismanis.
Because almost all the works are from the Baroque era, the themes of many of the songs are of a religious nature, including two arias from George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah”: “But Who May Abide” and “He Was Despised.” Though Baroque music can be considered “simpler” than later music, it is no easy feat to sing it well. The singer also needs to convey the gravity of the text, as these are works of sacred music, and Jēgers is certainly up to the challenge, conveying the somber weight of these Biblical passages.
A great number of arias by Handel are included on this disc. Besides the arias from the “Messiah”, the disc also has arias from the operas “Xerxes,” “Rinaldo” and “Alcina.” The Classical era also is represented, with an early W.A. Mozart piece, Pharnace’s aria “Venga” from the opera “Mitridate.” Also, on the disc you will find two arias from Christoph Gluck’s opera “Orpheus and Euridice.”
The disc closes with one of the most beautiful melodies of the late Renaissance and early Baroque period, Giulio Caccini’s “Ave Maria.” This melody has been performed by many famous singers, including Latvia’s Inese Galante and the internationally renowned Andrea Bocelli. Jēgers joins this elite group with his performance of this sacred song, a fitting entry into the select group who can truly perform this work with the beauty that it requires.
The packaging of the disc is excellent. The liner notes by Orests Silabriedis, which also are translated into English, explain the countertenor (noting that some countertenors sing in falsetto, some in their natural voice, but not actually saying to which group Jēgers belongs!). The notes also contain Jēgers’ biography, as well as song texts for all the arias, and a brief description of each opera or oratorio from which the song is taken. The information is very helpful, and leads to a better understanding of the works and greater enjoyment of Jēgers talents.
It is clear from the recording the immense respect Jēgers has for the music of the Baroque period. It is precise, earnest and spiritual. Certainly, the sound of a countertenor is unusual, but once the listener gets used to it, the realization becomes clearer that Jēgers truly has a unique talent and is an excellent singer. I would recommend Ave Musica for all fans of Baroque music. Even though many of the arias approach 300 years of age, they are still timeless and able to captivate the listener. Jēgers seems poised for bigger and better things, perhaps even on the world stage, and this CD is a great introduction to one of Latvia’s brightest young stars.
Upe tuviem un tāliem, 2006
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