Sarah Aristidou - Æther - Textura

It would be hard to imagine a more audacious debut album than Sarah Aristidou's, its daring immediately intimated by the imagery adorning the package. In place of the standard studio portrait, the French-Cypriot singer is shown within an Icelandic landscape, enveloped by mist and her features obscured. In presenting her so mystically, the release already distances itself from the prototypical soprano album, as does the repertoire. Yes, songs and arias by Debussy, Delibes, Handel, and Poulenc appear, but so too do pieces by Varèse, Adès, and, most arrestingly, Jörg Widmann.

Aristidou's vocal prowess is evident throughout, conspicuously so in the sustained high E that ends Delibes's “Chanson de la fille des Parias (air des clochettes)” (also from Lakmé) and her handling of the treacherous high-wire vocal part in Adès's “Ariel's Song” (from The Tempest). At the album's centre is the premiere recording of Widmann's Labyrinth V, which ellcits from an unaccompanied Aristidou a bravura performance that ranges from manic laughter and screams to gurgles, murmurs, sobs, and percussive pops. At times hair-raising, the eleven-minute performance registers as the album's most riveting for the sheer novelty of its effects.

11 February 2022