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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Concert Arias for Tenor

Va, dal furor portata, K21
Or che il dover - Tali e catanti sono, K36
Si mostra la sorte, K209
Con ossequio, con rispetto, K210
Se al labbro mio con credi, K295
Clarice cara mio sposo, K256
Per pietů, non ricercate, K420
Misero! O sogno - Aura che interno spiri, K431
Sinfonia in E flat major, K16
Divertimento in F major, K138
Christoph Prégardien (tenor)
L'Orfeo Barockorchester/Michi Gaigg
Rec 24-27 April 2001, SWR Studio, Karlsruhe
CPO 999 810-2 [77.09]

Mozart composed more than fifty arias in addition to those found within his operas. He did so at every stage of his career, and always for one of two reasons. The majority were conceived as 'insertion arias' in an existing opera by himself or someone else, in order to suit the needs of a particular singer. The other examples were genuine 'concert arias', intended to display a singer's prowess in the context of a concert performance, while still retaining an operatic style. The great majority of these marvellous pieces were composed for the soprano voice, but as this interesting compilations shows, those for tenor are distinctive too. Together they form a significant part of his creative work. Nor should their relative neglect deflect from the excellence of the music, which is thoroughly worthy of Mozart's genius. For these reasons Christoph Prégardien's new collection is to be welcomed.

What of the performances? Firstly, the sound is clean and fresh, in a suitable acoustic surrounding. As the name tells us, L'Orfeo Barockorchester is an 'original instrument' band, and they play with a fresh, incisive enthusiasm. The quality of their string intonation is not unpleasing, but as with other ensembles of this type, the music misses some of its more expressive warmth in this style of playing. The balance of voice and orchestra is effectively achieved, and is particularly successful in making the most of the directness and artistry of the early pieces. These may not be as deeply artistic or expressive as the later music, but as these examples show, they are well worth our attention.

Prégardien's tone is certainly pleasing, and if there are signs of strain in some of the larger recitative sections, such as the opening phase of 'Misero! O sogno', the tension created is not inappropriate to the music. Some of these pieces are quite extensive, running to ten or more minutes, and that in itself is a challenge to the performers. For example, 'Se il labbro mio con credi, K295, runs for more than eleven minutes, and is important in Mozart's development as a composer. It was written in Mannheim in 1778, when he was en route for Paris. The intended singer was the eminent Anton Raaff, for whom he would soon create the part of Idomeneo. Mozart regarded Raaff as 'the most famous tenor in the world', and he therefore made a special effort to write something distinctive and substantial for him. This performance is sensitive to the aria's needs, and is well shaped and lovingly phrased. Only the final degree of expressive warmth (see above) is lacking). In any case, it is a highlight of the disc.

All praise to CPO for adding a couple of purely orchestral items: the early Symphony in E flat, K16, and the celebrated Divertimento in F, K138. The latter performance is less successful than the former, largely because the phrasing and emphases of the finale fail to articulate the music clearly enough. Perhaps the keyboard continuo is too loud also. But the Symphony is another matter. Although it is hardly a masterpiece, Gaigg's conducting captures just the right tone, at once fresh and direct.

With excellent presentation including full texts and translations, this disc has much to commend it.

Terry Barfoot


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