There is little doubting Cecilia Bartoliís status
as the mezzo of our time. It was with Nikolaus Harnoncourt
that she stepped on stage for the first time in a Mozart role (as Cherubino
in Zurich in 1988). Characteristically, her choices for this concert
were fascinating: here was a major international artist in repertoire
rarely heard live. Two of the arias, K583 and K217, were actually written
for insertion into other composerís operas (Vado, ma dove?, K583
for Antonio Solerís Il barbero di buon cuore; Voi avete un
cor fedele, K217 for Galuppiís Le nozze di Dorinda), only
K528 standing in its own right.
Vado, ma dove? began with Bartoliís superb declamation.
She turns a phrase perfectly, with a complete mastery over the dramatic
situation (one gets the impression that a recitative could never be
a fast-forward experience with this artist). Her characterisation was
gripping: there was no period in which Bartoli had to draw the audience
in Ė the effect of entering the mind of the protagonist was immediate.
Her ability to float a line over Harnoncourtís super-sensitive accompaniments
was pure magic.
It would appear Bartoli wanted the three arias to run
together, as she looked slightly embarrassed by the applause following
the first of her trio. The aria K528 (Bella mia fiamma, addio!)
saw Bartoli using a slight edge to her voice to expressive effect. She
was as expressive in her gestures as in her voice (an unusual combination
as frequently too much movement means the singer is compensating for
defects in technique).
One could actually see Bartoli warm to the London audience
by her third aria. Voi avete un cor fedele gave more of an opportunity
for fireworks, and it was an opportunity that Bartoli relished to the
full. The ovation she received was more than warranted.
Mozartís Symphony No. 29, which preceded this trio
of delights, was given a typical Harnoncourt performance: accents positively
bit the listener within predominantly fast tempi. There was real drama
here: the first movement almost came across as an opera overture! Harnoncourt
ensured that bold colours were brought to the fore, horns blazing appropriately
at the conclusion. This was far more than a warm-up for Bartoli because
of Harnoncourtís enviable ability to make one rethink this repertoire.
Schumannís orchestration is frequently called in to
question by commentators, but any such doubts were swept aside by this
performance of the ĎSpringí Symphony. Certainly, the antiphonal
layout of the violins helped to elucidate textures and counterpoint,
but there was so much more to it than that. Right from the very first
phrase, when the little comma of fresh air between the first two notes
heralded a lighter reading than most, there was an aura of authority
about the interpretation. Several times, Mendelssohn was brought to
mind, particularly in the lightness of the string articulation during
the finale. The stabbing accents of the Scherzo only reflected Harnoncourtís
determined approach to this piece.
Despite Harnoncourtís very great merits, though, it
is Bartoliís sublime artistry that will remain in this reviewerís memory
for a very long time.