Myslivecek Abraham and Isaac

Author: 
John Warrack

Myslivecek Abraham and Isaac

  • Abraham and Isaac

''All Munich is talking about his oratorio Abramo e Isacco, which he gave here'', wrote Mozart to his father in October 1777, in the course of the longest, most affectionate account he gave of any of his friends. Myslivecek, a talented and good-natured man, was in the city being treated for a condition variously described but almost certainly syphilis, and an incompetent surgeon had disfigured him appallingly. At least he was able to enjoy Mozart's company, though his distressing appearance pained them both, and also bask in the success of his most famous work.
It is indeed an enjoyable piece, elegantly and fluently written in a manner that must have seemed a little old-fashioned even to the loyal Mozart. That did not prevent various suggestions being made around the time that the music was much better than anything which could have been composed by a Bohemian with an unpronounceable name and so it must be by Mozart (anyway, that would attract more custom). The story is the familiar Old Testament one of Abraham and Isaac, the style close to the opera seria genre in which Myslivecek excelled. Some of the ideas do indeed take one close to the young Mozart; the differences show, especially, in the workings out of various arias, which can become bogged down in figuration that Mozart would have either enlivened or abandoned, and so overstay their welcome.
There are nevertheless some charming arias, and there is a well-sustained impetus in the movement between aria and recitative and narration. Abraham is taken, perhaps surprisingly, by a tenor. Vladimir Dolezal sings with a graceful legato, and handles some of his more anguished vengeance-type music energetically, but (for instance, in ''Datti pace'') he can lose rhythm and phrasing in some of the passagework. Isaac is sung gently and quite expressively by Tatiana Korovina, though more spirit in some of the music would not conflict with the character's obedience. Sarah has much music expressing her patience, which Hye Jin Kim does effectively enough, largely to the character of Gamari, who cannot follow what is going on: the part is mostly sung by Ivana Czakova, but two arias added when the work was rewritten for a baritone are contributed by Ivan Kusnjer. The voice of God does not appear: instead, there is an Angel who, having announced to Abraham that he must kill his son, holds matters up with an aria before the appalled father can burst out with ''Eterno Dio!'', an imprecation that sounds more like an oath than a prayer. Fortunately the Angel's aria is charming, and sung with childlike purity (and a serene top C sharp) by Victoria Luchianez. Ivan Parik conducts an enthusiastic performance that sounds more secure with the orchestra than with the singers. The Italian words are provided, but no translations.'

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