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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Apollo et Hyacinthus
Opera in three acts
Śbalus…Markus Schäfer (tenor)
Melia…Christian Fliegner (age 13 soprano)*
Hyacinthus…Sebastien Pratchske (age12 soprano)*
Apollo…Christian Günther (age 12 alto)*
Zephyrus…Philipp Cieslewicz (age 13 alto)*
With Christian Immler
*Soloists from the Tölzer Knabenchor
L’Ensemble Baroque de Nice / Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden
PAVANE RECORDS PRESTIGE ADW 7236/37 [CD1: 37.33 CD2:43.10]
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Just occasionally I reflect on the theoretical basis of a review. On what basis do you, or do I, form an opinion? You will be forced to consider this when listening to this CD because Pavane has returned to the original ages for the four main soloists who here are aged twelve or thirteen.
By any standards, applied to such youthful presentations, this is a thoroughly enjoyable performance. By the standard of adults singing the work … well it is not that simple … because you are not judging oranges with oranges. You are comparing two entirely different performances.
That is not the only difference. The accompanying notes include some comments by the conductor who explains that the dynamics and tempi have been based on the original manuscript notes with "music played on instruments whose origins lie in past times". The result, orchestrally, is tempi a little variable compared with what we might expect and a somewhat ‘thin’ sharp–edged sound beyond the merely crisp. Against this the youthful voices project well: which is no doubt what the eleven year-old composer intended. This was an end of term composition for the Benedictine School/University with the music to be interspersed entr’acte style. That said the work stands well alone - as this or any performance shows.
The young soloists in this work each sound so very differently to the other that you are never in doubt as to the singer. This is aided by the register for the two altos being particularly low, providing a stark contrast with the sopranos. Further their youthfulness appears to add more clarity of diction.
Christian Fliegner (13) as Melia is outstanding. The aria Laetari, iocari contains some gentle vocal gymnastics – fortunately after a warm up period in the immediately preceding recitative. This is the strongest and most expressive of the youthful voices enjoying some (comparatively) simple coloratura. Just occasionally there is a touch of shrillness at full sound in the highest part of the register – but it is only a touch. This is more than compensated for by the vocal strength carried throughout the whole performance. Thus my first sample for you to hear must include one of the opening lines and I have selected the first da capo repeat <sample 1>.
It was too tempting to offer a second listening example of Fliegner from his duet with Markus Schäfer as Oebalus (tenor). His is not the strongest voice but with a clear tone he and Fliegner provide a quite excellent foil for each other. In the preceding and succeeding recitatives they seem to trigger in each other greater expression, more beautiful tone and splendid vocal contrasts. There follows a sample from their quite beautiful duet Natus cadit <sample 2> starting part way through the final section.
Christian Günther, as Apollo, demonstrates a wide register, which is essential for some seriously low alto notes. At first it seems anachronistic for such a young voice to sing of ‘godly’ matters but in logic there is no reason why not and in performance Günther carries it off well. The first part of his aria Jam pastor Apollo is delivered with splendid vocal consistency. The second part is seriously demanding and if he is not very comfortable with the coloratura he more than makes up for it in the finale – a trio with Fleigner and Schäfer where there is a mature combination of voices to give a strong conclusion.
Sebastien Pratchske (12) sounds underpowered for Hyacinthus but combines well with Philipp Cieslewicz (13) as Zephyrus: and the more I listened the more I realised that this was a good balance of voices for the devious Zephyrus and the innocent Hyacinthus. Further they provide a good contrast with the stronger Fliegner and Günther. In Pratchske’s aria Saepe terrent Numina the tempo seems too rigid to allow the beauty of word and note to shine (particularly nunc amando / nunc minando). That said he copes well with the two parts, finishing and lingering on some strong coloratura. This is my third sample which starts just before that display <sample 3>.
To Cieslewicz falls Zephyrus’ aria En! duos conspicis which I always think foreshadows some of Mozart’s later phrases if not works. There are some splendidly warm tones here with very assured orchestral handling.
My vocal conclusion is that this CD makes a serious contribution to our understanding of the works of the young Mozart and enables us better to follow his development. It is almost an inevitable corollary that because ‘you cannot put an old head on young shoulders’ you are going to lack the full gamut of adult emotion and expression: which takes us back to our opening thoughts.
The accompanying booklet is helpful in synopsis, history and background materials. It is a pity that the libretto translations were not on the same double page as the original because my ‘Italian’ Latin required page flicking at several points. Further the libretto did not indicate the commencing points of the second and third acts.
Those are small quibbles about a CD which gives us a seriously different musical experience. If you do not have the (adult) Philips recording (422 526-2) this should be added to your collection: indeed if you do have that recording then add this for it is so very different.
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