The 50 greatest Mozart recordings - part 5

Gramophone Mon 16th May 2016

Concluding our survey of the greatest Mozart recordings, from Idomeneo to Bryn Terfel's 'Tutto Mozart!'

Verdi's Macbeth

Idomeneo

Sols incl Elsner, Hammarstrom, Bonde-Hansen; Danish Radio Sinfonietta / Adam Fischer

(Dacapo)

Adam Fischer’s series of Mozart’s serious operas turns its attention to Idomeneo (Munich, 1781). Some cuts Mozart made before the first performance are followed, such as the abridged cavatina for Idomeneo and the Priests (as they prepare for Idamante’s sacrifice), and the king’s final aria “Torna la pace” is omitted. Other music is reinstated – nowadays one expects to hear Elettra’s “D’Oreste, d’Aiace”, and with its preceding accompanied recitative in full, but Fischer also restores the magnificent ballet music at the end of the opera (included separately on the fourth disc). The chunky booklet includes the libretto and a comprehensive selection of the Mozart family’s correspondence about the opera’s composition, rehearsal and production. Fischer’s Mozartian work is less hyped (and less polemical) than the corresponding efforts by René Jacobs, whose recent Idomeneo typified how superb period-instrument playing and a prestigious cast might still be greeted with mixed admiration from sceptics inclined to deplore scattered iconoclastic whimsies. In contrast, the Danish Radio Sinfonietta’s modern instruments play with impeccable sense and style, and Fischer quietly gets on with delivering outstanding results that bespeak natural judgement of Mozartian music drama: his pacing, shaping of phrases and balancing of strings with woodwind textures are magnificent, and the theatrical effects in the orchestration emerge lucidly. Richard Lewis’s harpsichord accompaniment in recitatives is astute, even if some might quibble that the keyboard continuo ought to be a fortepiano.

Christian Elsner’s beefy tenor lacks mellifluousness in the Cretan king’s loveliest arias (“Vedrommi intorno” is husky rather than beautiful), and is stretched slightly by the reams of coloratura in “Fuor del mar” (which is superbly played and conducted), but his recitatives effectively portray a mature-sounding Idomeneo whose torment at the hands of Neptune warrants a peaceful abdication. Kristina Hammarström’s ardent Idamante is almost on a par with other eminent castrato-substitute counterparts on disc (Anne Sofie von Otter, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Bernarda Fink); “No, la morte io non pavento” has the perfect characterisation of virtuous courage. Muted strings, solo woodwinds and horn play sublimely during Ilia’s “Se il padre perdei”, and Henriette Bonde-Hansen’s sensitive singing also combines sweetly with the soft orchestration at the beginning of Act 3 (“Solitudini amiche…Zeffiretti lusinghieri”). Christoph Strehl is supple vocally and dignified dramatically as Arbace. Raffaella Milanesi’s Baroque expertise is evident in her tormented Elettra; there is a hint of strained smokiness in “D’Oreste, d’Aiace” (which works), the Sturm und Drang character of “Tutte nel cor” is conveyed to perfection by Fischer and the ensuing storm chorus “Pietà! Numi pieta” has flawless spatial differentation between the groups of men. The Danish National Choir is disciplined and resonant; the prominent brass during the tumultuous “Qual nuovo terrore” is thrilling and the entire scene culminating in “Oh voto tremendo” is hair-raising. The unique and marvellous qualities of Idomeneo are faithfully and satisfyingly captured on disc and the result bears close comparison with the benchmark versions by Sir John Eliot Gardiner and Sir Charles Mackerras. David Vickers (January 2011)

 

Le nozze di Figaro

Sols incl Terfel, Hagley, Gilfry; English Baroque Soloists / Sir John Eliot Gardiner

(Archiv)

The catalogue of Figaro recordings is a long one, and the cast lists are full of famous names. In this new version there is only one principal with more than a half-dozen recordings behind him, and some have none at all. It is a commentary on the times, on the astuteness of the casting here and on the capacity of a strong conductor to make the whole so much more than the sum of its parts that this version can stand comparison with any, not only for its grasp of the drama but also for the quality of its singing.

It is, of course, a period-instrument recording, and to my ears rather more evidently so than many of those under John Eliot Gardiner. The string tone is pared down and makes quite modest use of vibrato, the woodwind is soft-toned (but happily prominent). The voices are generally lighter and fresher-sounding than those on most recordings of the opera and the balance permits more than usual to be heard of Mozart's instrumental commentary on the action and the characters.

This is a live performance, made during two concert performances at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London last summer (plus, I imagine, some studio retakes: there are a few points where the background is hushed beyond credibility for a public performance). The recitative is done with quite exceptional life and feeling for its meaning and dramatic import, with a real sense, during much of it, of lively and urgent conversation, especially in the first half of the work. At a number of points later on, particularly in Act 3, it becomes over-indulgent and excessively drawn-out, and such passages as the one around the trial scene would, I think, become quite tiresome on repeated hearings—the fact that the audience are clearly relishing it, and laughing in places where apparently nothing is happening (though doubtless it was on the QEH stage), doesn't make it better listening at home.

Bryn Terfel and Alison Hagley make an outstanding Figaro and Susanna. Terfel is quite a deep bass-baritone with enough darkness in his voice to sound pretty menacing in ''Se vuol ballare'' as well as bitter in ''Aprite un po' quegli occhi''; it is an alert, mettlesome performance—and he also brings off a superlative ''Non piu andrai'', done with tremendous spirit to its rhythms and richly and pointedly coloured. Hagley, the much and justly admired Susanna in the recent Glyndebourne production, offers a reading of spirit and allure. The interplay between her and the woodwind in ''Venite inginocchiatevi'' is a delight, and her cool but heartfelt ''Deh vieni'' is very beautiful. Once or twice her intonation seems marginally under stress but that is the price one pays for singing with so little vibrato, and it's worth it. I enjoyed Hillevi Martinpelto's unaffected, youthful-sounding Countess; both arias are quite lightly done, with a very lovely, warm, natural sound in ''Dove sono'' especially. Some may prefer a more polished, sophisticated reading, of the traditional kind, but I have no doubt that this is closer to what Mozart would have wanted and expected. Rodney Gilfry provides a Count with plenty of fire and authority, firmly focused in tone; the outburst at the Allegro assai in ''Vedro mentr'io sospiro'' is formidable. Pamela Helen Stephen's Cherubino sounds charmingly youthful and impetuous; ''Voi che sapete'' is taken a good deal quicker than usual, and with a touch of comedy, and benefits from it. Carlos Feller repeats his Bartolo (he is on the L'Oiseau-Lyre set), with due buffoonery in ''La vendetta'', Francis Egerton contributes a sharply drawn Basilio, and Susan McCulloch catches Marcellina very neatly. If I am commenting more on characterization than on actual singing as such, that is because this is so much more a realization of the work than simply a performance of its music.

Yet it does not quite have the opera-house aura that some Figaro performances on record achieve. Older readers will think, first, of the famous Erich Kleiber set, where you feel you are in the stalls, eager for the rise of the curtain, the moment you hear the overture begin. The Ostman version has something of that, too. But certainly there is no want of dramatic life in Gardiner's direction. His tempos are marginally quicker than most, and the orchestra often speaks eloquently of the drama: it rages at the beginning of ''Cosa sento?'', for example, and it is pretty alarming too in the Act 2 trio where Susanna is supposedly in the Countess's dressing-room (the Count's battering on the door is included). The finale here is paced in an original and effective way. ''Crudel, perche finora'' has a charming sensuality. I thought the fandango in the Act 3 finale marred by coarse dynamic treatment. The Act 4 finale has many good things—note the prominent giggling viola phrase where Figaro at last realizes that the 'Countess' is Susanna in disguise and the apt, unexaggerated but very effective, timing of the denouement: though I wish Gardiner had not risked sentimentalizing the Andante of the Count's plea for forgiveness by taking it so very slowly. I also wished he would not taper, dynamically, the phrase-ends in the overture, which sounds to me weak-kneed and has no imaginable historical justification. He has his singers include a lot of appoggiaturas, but not with much consistency (though without the wanton promiscuity of the advice in the New Mozart Edition score): sometimes a phrase and its response are treated differently. There are a few little oddities in the Italian pronunciation. These are small, almost trivial points, worth raising only because there is so much here that demands criticism by the highest possible standards.

Gardiner adopts the Moberly/Raeburn order of events in Act 3, the first, as far as I can remember, to do so in a recording. This involves placing ''Dove sono'' before, instead of after, the sextet. He argues the case in the notes, but misses two basic points: we know, from the original printed libretto, that the work was first given in its traditional order; and Mozart could not, at the time of writing his score, have intended the revised order (as Alan Tyson has proved). His other arguments do carry some weight, however, and the revision makes sense, but it is not what Mozart intended and to my ears unbalances the Act by having the sextet too close to the finale. Secondly, in the last Act he places Susanna's aria before, instead of after, Figaro's. There are excellent reasons for thinking that this was Da Ponte's and Mozart's original intention, in particular (as Gardiner does not actually point out) because it motivates Figaro's outburst so much more powerfully if he has just heard Susanna apparently relishing the prospect of making love with the Count; but when (or if) this was intended, Mozart had a different key scheme, and probably two different arias, in mind, and surely different recitative texts. It is interesting to hear it this way, but with the music we have it is possible to manage it only by interrupting Figaro's accompanied recitative for Susanna's scene, which is an unsatisfactory procedure. An interesting and worthwhile experiment even if it does not quite work. Stanley Sadie (August 1994)

 

Le nozze di Figaro

Sols incl Regazzo, Ciofi, Keenlyside; Concerto Köln / René Jacobs

(Harmonia Mundi)

René Jacobs always brings new ideas to the operas he conducts, and even to a work as familiar as Figaro he adds something of his own. First of all – and this will be obvious to listeners from the opening bars – he offers an orchestral balance quite unlike what we are used to. Those who specially relish a Karajan or a Solti will hardly recognise the work, with its strongly wind-biased orchestral balance: you simply do not hear the violins as the ‘main line’ of the music. An excellent corrective to a tradition that was untrue to Mozart, to be sure, but possibly the pendulum has swung a little too far. For my own part, I rather enjoy it, although there are some string passages that almost get lost.

Jacobs is freer over tempo than most conductors. Sometimes, perhaps most conspicuously in the Act 1 trio where Cherubino is uncovered, the Count’s authoritarian pronouncements are given further weight by a faster tempo: it gives them extra decisiveness, but creates an attendant problem as the music then has to slow down. There are other examples of such flexibility, sometimes a shade disconcerting (mainly, perhaps, because we aren’t used to it), but always with good dramatic point. The Count’s duet with Susanna in Act 3 is one example: the little hesitancies enhanced and pointed up, if perhaps with some loss in energy and momentum. Generally speaking, tempi are on the quick side of normal, notably in the earlier parts of the Act 2 finale; but Jacobs is willing to hold back, too, for example in the Susanna-Marcellina duet, in the fandango (very nicely poised), and in the G major music at the dénouement where the Count begs forgiveness – this, to my mind, is overdone, becoming merely solemn and even slightly dull. I’m not always quite convinced that Jacobs’s ideas and instincts are truly Mozartian.

Over the years, Gramophone readers may have become bored with my repeated advocacy of the use of proper appoggiaturas. There are lots of them here, but quite a few seem to me misguided, or misapplied, and don’t sit comfortably (as they nearly always do in Arnold Östman’s recording). It isn’t perhaps unreasonable to think that Mozart may sometimes actually have wanted a pair of repeated notes (in that Act 1 trio, for example). I also find myself uncomfortable with the ‘creative’ fortepiano continuo playing, which often draws attention to itself unduly at the expense of the voices – including, sometimes, in the lyrical music, where the piano supplements (and sometimes confuses) the texture, and in the recitatives where the player too cleverly echoes or pre-echoes phrases from the arias. And there are some oddities in the cello continuo playing, too, more apt to Monteverdi than to Mozart. But the idea of using vocal ornamentation from sources of Mozart’s own time, or just after, at the singers’ choice, is a happy and very successful one.

The cast is excellent. Véronique Gens offers a beautifully natural, shapely ‘Porgi amor’ and a passionate and spirited ‘Dove sono’ (with the piano rampant near the end). The laughter in Patrizia Ciofi’s voice is delightful when she is dressing up Cherubino, and she has space in ‘Deh vieni’ for a touchingly expressive performance. Then there is Angelika Kirschlager’s Cherubino, alive and urgent in ‘Non so più’, every little phrase neatly moulded. Lorenzo Regazzo offers a strong Figaro, with a wide range of voice – angry and determined in ‘Se vuol ballare’, nicely rhythmic with some softer colours in ‘Non più andrai’, and pain and bitterness in ‘Aprite’. The Count of Simon Keenlyside is powerful, menacing, lean and dark in tone. Marie McLaughlin sings Marcellina with unusual distinction. As in Mozart’s performances, the male comprimario parts are doubled, Bartolo/Antonio and Basilio/Curzio, and following the precedent of the original singer, Michael Kelly, the Curzio has a stammer – Mozart initially objected to that, but Kelly (or so he says in his reminiscences) won him over. Strongly cast, imaginatively directed: it’s a Figaro well worth hearing. Stanley Sadie (May 2004)

 

Le nozze di Figaro

Sols incl Siepi, Gueden, Poell, della Casa; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Erich Kleiber

(Decca)

Kleiber’s Figaro is a classic of the classics of the gramophone: beautifully played by the Vienna Phil, conducted with poise and vitality and a real sense of the drama unfolding through the music. It’s very much a Viennese performance, not perhaps as graceful or as effervescent as some but warm, sensuous and alive to the interplay of character. At the centre is Hilde Gueden, whose Susanna has echoes of operetta, although she remains a true Mozartian stylist. Lisa della Casa’s Countess may not be one of the most dramatic but the voice is full yet focused. Suzanne Danco’s Cherubino isn’t exactly impassioned, and is really as much girlish as boyish, but it’s still neat and musical singing. The balance among the men is affected by the casting of Figaro with a weightier singer than the Count. But Alfred Poell’s Count makes up in natural authority and aristocratic manner what he lacks in sheer power, and he shows himself capable of truly sensual singing in the Act 3 duet with Susanna.

There are excellent performances, too, from Corena’s verbally athletic Bartolo and Dickie’s alert, ironic Basilio. However, the true star is Erich Kleiber. The beginning of the opera sets your spine tingling with theatrical expectation. Act 1 goes at pretty smart tempos, but all through he insists on full musical value. There’s no rushing in the confrontations at the end of Act 2 – all is measured and properly argued through. The sound is satisfactory, for a set of this vintage, and no lover of this opera should be without it.

 

Le nozze di Figaro

Sols incl Schrott, Persson, Finley; The Royal Opera / Antonio Pappano

(Opus Arte DVD)

Here is a Figaro to put with the 1973 Glyndebourne production placed among the top five operatic DVDs (4/08). Presiding in the pit is Pappano, sure of touch, and on stage, Erwin Schrott, a god’s-gift Figaro; he and his Susanna, Miah Persson, must be the handsomest pair in the world of opera. The producer is David McVicar who has thought of a thousand good ideas and only two bad ones (anon), with a team that has done the Royal Opera House proud. Count and Countess are distinguished and memorable, and I should say there’s not a member of the company (down to the well individualised servants) who does not contribute worthily.

Figaro and Susanna are very much the centre here, and we like them not only because they sing and act well but because they are sympathetic in a modern way. Or perhaps that is a way of saying that they give the kind of performance the camera likes: their energy is creditably youthful and spontaneous, and their facial expressions work largely through eyes and eyebrows. They deal in light ironies, delicate apprehensions. And both have voices ideally suited to their music, Schrott with richness and depth, Persson with freshness that is sharp-pointed to just the right degree. Dorothea Röschmann’s Countess is an unusually active, passionate woman, and her voice, which a few years ago would have been a natural Susanna, has filled out suprisingly. The Count’s is an unenviable role: nobody likes him, and by Act 4 he has begun to wear his “foiled-again” expression too often. Finley goes grim-faced from one defeat to another, singing like a true aristocrat all the way. Of the others, Jonathan Veira’s pop-eyed Bartolo deserves mention, straight from the pen of “Boz”.

The producer’s two misjudgements are (I think) letting the company enter halfway through the Count’s aria and cutting off at the end of what is normally Act 3 so as (presumably) to intimate a new seriousness in what is to follow. Maybe both work better in the house. They didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the DVD, and nor did anything else. John Steane (August 2008)

 

Mitridate, re di Ponto

Sols incl Zachariassen, Bonde-Hansen, Fontosh; Danish Radio Sinfonietta / Adam Fischer

(Dacapo) 

The 14-year-old Mozart’s first attempt at an opera seria has fared extremely well on disc during the last dozen years: Christophe Rousset’s brisk performance (Decca, 5/99) has a star-studded cast that delivers excellent all-round singing (albeit marred by Giuseppe Sabbatini’s absurdly unidiomatic vocal bulging); Jed Wentz’s budget version for Brilliant Classics is admirably played and nicely sung; Sir Roger Norrington’s live recording from the 1997 Salzburg Festival has a variable cast and a number of cuts, but is conducted with unrivalled stylish conviction (Orfeo, 1/07).

Adam Fischer’s interpretation, recorded by Danish Radio in March 2002, now makes its belated appearance on CD. The Danish Radio Sinfonietta play with an ideal balance between lean rhythmic articulation and shapely melodic phrasing. Fischer conducts with a sure sense of pacing; dramatic details in the orchestral ritornellos of each aria are astutely brought out. His versatile shading of the orchestra during the contrasting slow and fast sections of Sifare’s “Parto: nel gran cimento” is sensitively attuned to Maria Fontosh’s switches between tender melodic outpourings and flowing coloratura. The emergence of vigorous orchestral nuances in Farnace’s defiant outburst “Venga pur, minacci e frema” is exemplary because the marvellous Kristina Hammarström is never forced to compete for attention. Mathias Zachariassen navigates notoriously wide leaps with unusual assurance in his entrance cavata “Se di lauri il crine adorno” (Mozart had to compose this aria five times before the original singer was content with it); Zachariassen also copes better than most with the fiendish technical gauntlet thrown down at him in the furious “Quel ribelle e quell’ingrato”.

Most impressively, this performance captures the full theatrical potency of the unfurling plot. The extended sequence of accompanied recitatives and arias in which the secret lovers Sifare and Aspasia discuss their dire predicament (Act 2 scenes 7-8) are delivered with dramatic poignancy. At the heart of Act 3, Henriette Bonde-Hansen’s solemn characterisation of Aspasia coming to terms with being forced to drink poison is show-stopping. The lighter voices of Sine Bundgaard and Lisa Larsson suit the roles of Arbate and Ismene perfectly, and Anders J Dahlin neatly dispatches the small role of the Roman tribune Marzio. Harpsichordist Richard Lewis prepared the performing edition by abridging the original recitative, adding trumpets and timpani to four numbers with military overtones (some may doubt that this was necessary), and providing a cadenza for the horn obbligato in Sifare’s “Lungi da te” (beautifully played by Thomas Kjelldén). I shall be surprised to hear a more satisfying Mozart opera recording any time soon. David Vickers (June 2010)

 

Die Zauberflöte

Sols incl Peterson, Kaappola, Behle; Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin / René Jacobs

(Harmonia Mundi)

Jacobs sets out his stall in a long booklet essay. His avowed aim is to create for CD a “Hörspiel with music, a play for listening” from Mozart’s “comedy with machines”, as Die Zauberflöte was billed at the first performances. Accordingly, we get theatrical effects aplenty, from thunder and torrents to the slow drip of water in subterranean caves and animated birdsong. More crucially, Jacobs restores virtually every word of Schikaneder’s dialogue (hence the need for three CDs), sometimes eliding speech with music, as when Papageno’s opening song begins under the final words of Tamino’s monologue. The Three Ladies veer between speech and a kind of Sprechgesang, the “altes Weib” sings a grotesque snatch of Ländler before morphing into Papagena. Predictably to anyone who knows Jacobs’s other Mozart recordings, the fortepiano cannot be kept down for long. Keyboard chuckles and flourishes punctuate the opening scene with the Three Ladies. When Papageno checks Pamina’s identity on the basis of her portrait, the fortepiano duly paraphrases the opening of Tamino’s Portrait aria. Soft, slithering arpeggios accompany Monostatos as he approaches the sleeping Pamina in Act 2.

Some may find all this “production” meretricious, gimmicky. With the odd proviso (I could certainly have done without the avian accompaniment to the dulcet wind-band music at the start of the Act 2 finale), I thought it worked brilliantly, enlivening reams of dialogue that, on disc, can all too easily sound tedious to Anglophone (and even to German) listeners. It helps, of course, that the mainly German-speaking cast delivers the dialogue naturally, with wit (the Three Ladies are outstanding), spirit and, in the temple scenes, a welcome lack of orotundity.

As ever, Jacobs favours lively speeds, light articulation and pungent, colourful textures. Horns and trumpets bray incontinently in the Queen of the Night’s “revenge” aria, while the superb Berlin wind players take the fabulous opportunities Mozart offers them with flair and eloquence. He shows a sure control of the ebb and flow of tension in the two long act finales. True to form, though, there are controversial tempo choices and manipulations within a single number – say, in the Act 2 trio for Pamina, Tamino and Sarastro, which races out of the blocks before slowing right down for the final page. Even after several hearings I’m unreconciled to Jacobs’s ultra-jaunty tempo for the luminous, ethereal opening of the Act 1 finale.

As to Jacobs’s cast, more than any version I know, it reminds one that Mozart’s own singers were youthful – Anna Gottlieb, the Pamina, just 17, and even Franz Gerl, the Sarastro, only 26. Those for whom a ripe profundo Sarastro, in the mould of Kurt Moll or René Pape, is a sine qua non will doubtless be disappointed by Jacobs’s choice. But the conductor is evidently concerned to make Sarastro less venerably pontifical, more warmly human than usual; and Marcos Fink’s sympathetic, cleanly produced bass-baritone (though with ample resonance on the low notes) fits his conception well. As his antipode, Finnish soprano Anna-Kristiina Kaappola is a formidably venomous, full-toned Queen of the Night, the diamantine coloratura integrated into the main body of the voice rather than, as so often, a squeaky add-on.

Daniel Behle makes a highly appealing Tamino, singing the Portrait aria gently, as a tender, musing soliloquy, and sensitively conveying the Prince’s journey from confused impetuosity to dawning understanding of the priestly order in his scene with Konstantin Wolff’s kindly, un-hieratic Speaker. Daniel Schmutzhard, with a pleasing lyric baritone, plays a properly ingenuous Papageno, never falling into the trap – in speech or song – of straining too hard for comic effect. Similarly, Kurt Azesberger is a vivid, uncaricatured Monostatos, overseeing a band of very Viennese slaves. The Ladies sing and blend as well as they act, while the trio of boys is less hooty and better tuned than most. The loveliest performance comes from Marlis Petersen’s Pamina, singing with even, pellucid tone, phrasing gracefully and embodying the character’s gradual transformation from girlish innocence, through suffering (her G minor aria mingles vocal poise with uncommon urgency of feeling), to radiant womanhood.

With fierce competition among period-instrument performances alone – Norrington (Virgin, 11/91R), Gardiner (Archiv, 10/96), Östman (L’Oiseau-Lyre, 2/94) and, my own favourite, Christie (Erato, 5/96) all have their claims – to talk of an outright winner is absurd. Jacobs, predictably, can both illuminate and infuriate. But I suspect I shall reach for this new recording as often as any, for its bubbling, crackling theatricality and an eager, yet unforced, sense of fun that never short-changes the opera’s central message of human enlightenment. Richard Wigmore (Awards issue 2010)

 

Die Zauberflöte

Sols incl Röschmann, Miklósa, Streh; Mahler Chamber Orchestra & Arnold Schoenberg Choir / Claudio Abbado

(DG)

Had this new set been to hand when I discussed all versions of Die Zauberflöte in January, it would have been high on my list of recommendations. This is certainly the most desirable version using modern instruments to appear since Solti’s second recording in 1990. That said, its characteristics are rather nearer my period-performance choice, Christie’s 1995 set.

Abbado undertook the opera for the first time in performances in Italy last year, directed by his son (the production will come to this year’s Edinburgh Festival). On this occasion, at Modena in September, he conducts a direct, keenly articulated, inspiriting account of the score, obviously aware of what has been achieved in recent times by the authenticists, yet when he reaches the work at its most Masonic – the Act 2 trio and the scene with the Armed Men, Tamino and Pamina – Abbado, directing his beloved Mahler Chamber Orchestra, gives the music its true and wondrous import. The playing throughout is alert and scrupulously articulated.

Casts varied between performances; here Abbado assembled one predominantly chosen from a youngish generation of German-speaking singers, each of whom approaches his or her role with fresh sound and interprets it in impeccably Mozartian style. The Tamino and Pamina are well nigh faultless. Tamino has been taken by many outstanding tenors on disc but Christoph Strehl, a name new to me but already in great demand in Mozart on the Continent, sings with a Wunderlich-like strength and beauty, and rather more light and shade than his famous predecessor brought to the role. His is a wonderfully virile, vital reading that gives pleasure to the ear, as much in ensemble as in aria. He is partnered by Dorothea Röschmann, who has already appeared as Pamina at Covent Garden, and in many other houses. Her full-throated, positive singing, finely shaped, cleanly articulated, is a true match for Strehl’s.

Hanno Müller-Brachmann is a properly lively and amusing Papageno, and delivers the role in a richer bass-baritone than many interpreters provide. He doesn’t attempt a Viennese accent in the dialogue (a fairly full version), but brings plenty of simple humour to the part. The high and low roles are well catered for. The Hungarian coloratura Erika Miklósa has been making a speciality of Queen of Night over the past few years and shows just why in a technically secure and fiery account of her two arias. René Pape sings Sarastro: now at the peak of his career, he conveys all the role’s gravity and dignity in a gloriously sung performance. Kurt Azesberger is a suitably nasty Monostatos.

Abbado allows a few neatly executed decorations. The extensive dialogue, spoken in a manner suitable for the theatre, sometimes sounds over-emphatic in the home, with the Papagena as an old woman the worst culprit. The recording is reasonably well balanced. As a whole I felt the performance conveyed a welcome immediacy and spontaneity. If you want studio perfection, Solti may be preferable, but I very much warmed to the daring of Abbado’s way with the score. Alan Blyth (June 2006)

 

Lieder and Concert Arias

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf sop Brendel, Gieseking pfs London Symphony Orchestra / George Szell

(EMI/Warner Classics)

A classic disc – the fruitful collaboration of great artists. Schwarzkopf was 39 when she recorded the Lieder, mature in resources but still amazingly capable of the clarity of youth.

 

'Tutto Mozart!'

Bryn Terfel bass-bar Miah Persson sop Christine Rice mez Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Sir Charles Mackerras

(DG)

Unlike many showcase CDs for famous singers, this one has been carefully planned to demonstrate Terfel’s many-faceted gifts as a Mozartian, boxing the compass of roles and pieces for bass-baritone. Familiar items are interspersed with unfamiliar ones, and the singer, who writes how well Mozart wrote for his kind of voice, is heard in all the roles he has sung on stage (the exceptions include Papageno, for which his figure is unsuited, although in purely vocal terms he proves a lively and sympathetic bird-catcher). His Figaro, which begins and ends the programme, is nicely distinguished from his Count Almaviva, both brought before us by his pointed use of the Italian text. Similarly his suave, insinuating Giovanni is very different from his earthy Leporello, the timbre for each part cleverly differentiated. From Così fan tutte, he briefly undertakes Alfonso, another role he hasn’t assumed on stage, in the Farewell trio, then switches to Guglielmo for “Il core vi dono” where he woos the attractive Dorabella of Christine Rice.

Of the rarer operatic items and separate arias he gives a particularly dramatic account of “Così dunque tradisci” and finds the gentle Entführung-like humour of the incomplete “Männer suchen stets zu naschen” to his liking, with Miah Persson as partner to the inauthentic nonsense of “Nun liebest Weibchen”.

My only criticism of DG is that they have left Persson’s name off the front cover: as she appears with charm and distinction in six items, that seems unkind. The quality of the disc is confirmed by Sir Charles Mackerras’s authoritatively Mozartian direction and fine playing from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. The recording has both space and presence. Alan Blyth (Awards issue 2006)

 

You may have noticed that there are actually 51 recordings in this list, but then you can never have enough Mozart, can you?

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