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Mozart, Symphony No. 34, Concert Arias, Vesperae solennes de confessore, K. 339, Orchestre National de France, Riccardo Muti, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, 12.01.2006 (FC)



This concert marked the 25th year that Riccardo Muti has been making seasonal appearances with the Orchestre National de France and there were ample signs the love affair continues: cheers from the crowd before he played a note, scalped tickets, movie stars in the audience and bouquets thrown on stage. Despite the “gala” nature, he made a point of being serious with an all-Mozart evening which focused on a particular period of the composer’s output. His Symphony No. 34 in C, which began the concert, is K. 338, and the Vesperae solennes, which concluded, is K. 339.  Both were composed around September 1780, when he was still in the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg but planning his move to Vienna.

Joining the famously well-coiffed maestro was a quartet of talented young singers with two doing a pair of concert arias each.  The K. 369, Ah! Non son io, and the K. 374, A questo seno…Or cie il cielo, were both composed some six months later when he already had left Salzburg.  These were sung with a winning musicality and grace by the German soprano Julia Kleiter.  Already known in Paris (she has sung Pamina in two different Paris Opera productions), she was the audience favorite.  The other two concert arias, Alcandro, lo confesso… Non so d’onde viene (K. 512) and Mentre ti lascio (K. 513) were by another known performer, the young Italian bass Ildebrando D’Arcangelo. He has appeared in Paris with relative frequency in Mozart and Rossini operas in recent years but here he seemed raspy in the lower ranges, a problem I do not remember him having earlier.  A seasonal malady?

A small quibbling detail: singers need to understand that these concert arias always have a story to be told, however microscopic.  Singing the words without injecting some emotion, which is often done and was done this night, makes these gems unnecessarily limp-wristed. This was particularly surprising from D’Arcangelo, whose characters on stage are usually robustly etched.

The pleasures of this Vespers can, for many, be a bit of a surprise. Mozart’s liturgical music is both under-recorded and under-performed but has as much musical gold to be minded as any other part of his large body of work.  The tender music of the Laudate Dominum, sung with caressing tones by soprano Kleiter and the Choir of Radio France and the rousing Magnificat, which concluded, are only two examples of what awaits the larger public. The orchestra and chorus apparently look forward to these evenings as much as the audience and performed with world-class dedication and precision.

Why is Muti’s Mozart so enjoyable? He is “old style” in a way, conducting as if “historically informed performance” never happened: with a modern orchestra and all the dramatics of the old podium lions. But his x-ray view of textures and balance and his ever-present energy makes the music sail along as if touched by a magic wand. Because the wit and joy of Mozart’s music is often in the details, Muti’s careful attention to even the smallest arpeggio makes his interpretations surprisingly on target.

The recent dust-up in Milan means his future time there will be limited to guest stops. When he delivers concerts, however, with the incandescent joy of this (broadcast throughout France), there could hardly be another major city anywhere in the world that would not welcome him with open arms and coffers. 



Frank Cadenhead






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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)