MOZART Die Zauberflöte – Christie
With a background primarily in the French baroque, William Christie comes to Die Zauberflote from an angle quite unlike anyone else’s; yet nobody need be put off for this is as idiomatic and as deeply Mozartian a reading of the work as any in the catalogue. Interviewed in the accompanying booklet, Christie says wise things about the work and ways of performing it, and in particular remarks on the unforced singing that is one of his objectives and which, of course, is much more readily manageable with the gentler sound of period instruments. All of this is borne out by the performance itself, which is euphonious to a degree and falls more sweetly and lovingly on the ear than any I can recall.
All this gives Christie opportunities to shape the work subtly and sensitively, with finer levels of nuance than are available to most modern performances. Mozartians will relish it, and they will find other reasons in it to think freshly about the work. His tempos, for example, often set tradition aside, and not always in the same direction. Many are quickish, but not all: “Der Holle Rache” is distinctly slower than usual, deliberate rather than fiery; so in particular is the F major 3/4 section (the union of Pamina and Tamino) in the second finale, which gives it a weight, a gravitas, that establishes it as the true emotional climax of the work. Yet it is far from those Germanic performances that try so earnestly to tell you, by going slowly, that the work is a Great and Serious Utterance. Taken overall, the performance is quick and light-textured – and often quite dramatic, too, as for example in the Act 2 quintet, which is taken unusually rapidly (so is Monostatos’s aria, which follows it: real orchestral, and vocal virtuosity here). Another strength lies in the shaping, cool and unselfconscious, of the two extended finales: that of Act 1 in particular, with a steady rise of tension during Tamino’s verbal duel with the Priest (or Speaker) and then its release during the very gracefully and lyrically handled music that ensues. These light and soft textures and graceful phrasing are what above all characterize this recording. Some may find Christie less readily responsive than many more traditional interpreters to the music’s quicksilver changes in mood, yet this is a part of his broad and essentially gentle view of Die Zauberflote, and I think listeners will quickly come to see it as no less compelling a one.
His cast has few famous names. There is of course Hans-Peter Blochwitz, probably the finest Tamino around these days, who gives a thoughtful and relaxed Portrait aria and is quite outstanding, in his clarity and his expression, during the recitative dialogue in the Act 1 finale to which I have already alluded. As Pamina, Rosa Mannion, has much charm and a hint of girlish vivacity but blossoms into maturity and indeed passion in “Ach, ich fuhl’s” – the final phrases, as the wind instruments fall away and leave her alone and desolate, are very moving. Natalie Dessay’s Queen of Night is forthright, clean and well tuned, with ample weight and tonal glitter. The Papageno of Anton Scharinger is sensibly and musically sung, with touches of wit but no clowning. Steven Cole’s nicely forward production works well for Monostatos. There is warmth and affectionate authority in the Sarastro of Reinhard Hagen; I liked his little touches of ornamentation (not its only appearance in the set) in the second strophe of “In diesen heil’gen Hallen”. There is a vibrant trio of Ladies – their cadenza, which Mozart cut, in their Act 1 trio, is interestingly restored – and the Boys are boys, nicely throaty in tone and happily well in tune (their A major trio, incidentally, goes unusually quickly).
The orchestral playing from Les Arts Florissants is as polished as always, and the translucent sound is a joy on the ear. Among Zauberflote recordings using period instruments, you may find the Oestman particularly appealing for its exceptional pointedness and vivacity, but this new version (based incidentally on performances at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, though of course a studio recording), quite different in character, offers a very satisfying and acutely musical view of the work.'