Mozart (Die) Zauberflöte
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.