MOZART Die Entführung aus dem Serail
This ebullient, beautifully co-ordinated reading began life in a production at Strasbourg at the end of 1995 when Andrew Clark reported in Opera that ‘rarely have Mozart’s exotic textures sounded so feather-light, or the instrumental obbligatos so naturally in context’. Christie sets ‘brisk but flexible tempos, and builds the ensembles into a fever of musical jubilation’. That is all amply confirmed in this finely balanced, intimate recording. In the Overture and some of the early numbers, Christie is inclined to clip his rhythms with accents almost brusque, but once the Pasha and Konstanze appear on the scene, he settles into an interpretation that evinces the elevated sensibility that informs his Rameau, Handel – and indeed Die Zauberflote – on disc, strong on detail but never at the expense of the whole picture.
But then he has by his side a Konstanze to stop all hearts. Having delivered herself of a fleet, easy ‘Ach, ich liebte’, Schafer (who wasn’t in the original cast) pierces further than does any other interpreter into the soul of the woman who is both physically and emotionally imprisoned. From the deeply felt, vulnerable recitative leading into ‘Traurigkeit’ she pours out Constanze’s woes in that pure, plaintive, highly individual tone of hers and, above all, offers a wonderfully fresh and inward execution of the text. With Christie going all the way with her, musically speaking, ‘Traurigkeit’ itself is heart-rending in its G minor sorrowing, ‘Martern aller Arten’ the epitome of determined defiance and resolution. Try the final section from ‘Doch du bist entschlossen’ – have you ever heard it sound so resolute, so detailed?
In the great Act 2 Quartet and the last-act duet, where Mozart peers into his musical future, she is just as moving and inspires Bostridge to equal heights of tender inflexion. At first you may, as I did, find Bostridge lightweight for Belmonte. Ears accustomed to Wunderlich (Jochum), Schreier (Bohm) and Heilmann (Hogwood) need to get accustomed to Bostridge’s less refulgent tone, but in the context of this period-instrument performance, with a small band (smaller, I would judge, than Gardiner’s), his silvery voice and Mozartian know-how carry the day, though his voice sometimes sounds disconcertingly similar to the nimble, ingratiating tenor of the Pedrillo, Iain Paton.
Like her mistress in her role, Petibon gives us a Blonde to make us forget just about every other soprano in the part on disc. She plays with and smiles through her opening aria with a delightful freedom of technique and expression, nothing daunted by its tessitura, even adding decorations to the already-demanding vocal line (the whole recording is literally adorned by small embellishments, naturally delivered). She maintains this high standard throughout in a winning performance.
As Osmin, Ewing’s vibrant, individual bass-baritone is attractive on its own account but, as on the other period-instrument performances, one does rather miss a true bass voice in such a low-lying part (listen to Bohm’s Moll to hear what’s missing), and Ewing proves a benevolent, homely Osmin rather than a threatening one. But, like all the other singers and the keenly spoken Pasha of Low, he fits easily into the performance’s overall and likeable concept, so I am not inclined to labour this slight drawback.
Christie includes all the recently rediscovered music, as does Gardiner, but the choice of dialogue is markedly different, with Christie opting for a shorter script than Gardiner; Hogwood includes most of all. Its delivery is easy and idiomatic. As I have suggested, the recording is excellent.
By and large, Christie steers a sensible course between Gardiner’s over-brisk performance and Hogwood’s rather relaxed effort. In the all-important role of Konstanze, Orgonasova for Gardiner is vocally and technically as accomplished as Schafer, but when it comes to delving into the role’s meaning, she is nowhere beside her new rival, who surpasses even Bohm’s exemplary Auger.
Christie is now my recommendation if you want a period-instrument recording, with Bohm still there as a benchmark on modern instruments. At the bargain level Jochum is just back in circulation (but his Konstanze leaves something to be desired) on DG, and at super-bargain don’t overlook the excellent Linz issue on Arte Nova, but just now I am going back to listen to Schafer, Bostridge et al in that Quartet, Mozart performance on the highest level of achievement.'