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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le Nozze Di Figaro. Opera buffa in four acts - Highlights
Figaro, Renata Girolami (bass); Susanna, Judith Halász (sop); Count Almaviva, Bo Skovhus (bar); Countess Almaviva, Marina Mescheriakova (sop); Cherubino, Michelle Breedt (m. sop); Marcellina, Gabriele Sima, (sop); Basilio, Michael Roider (ten); Dr. Bartolo, Janusz Monarcha (bass); Barbarina, Orsolya Sáfár (sop);
Hungarian National Chorus, Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia/Michael Halász
Rec. Phoenix Studio, Budapest, 26th October to 4th November 2002
Super Audio CD with5.1 Surround Sound and DSD 2 channel stereo
NAXOS 6.110014 [68.15]


Mild exclamation marks of surprise crossed my mind when I saw that Naxos had issued highlights of their new Figaro at the same time as the three CD set of the complete work. Needless to say I reviewed the complete work before turning to this highlights disc. It was then that I had my second surprise as I handled the rounded corners of a somehow classier jewel box. Yes, this is a CD highlights of the complete issue. However, it is presented in multi-function mode as a hybrid SACD/CD disc with 5.1 Surround Sound. In other words the disc contains, in effect, three different versions of the same programme. These being, I quote, ‘5.1 multichannel surround sound mastered in DSD; 2 channel stereo mastered in DSD; CD standard stereo’. The initials DSD stand for Direct Stream Digital.

One of the major features of such technical wizardry is the claim of compatibility. So the first hour of reviewing time was spent in comparing the CD sound of the various excerpts on this disc with those on the complete set. This process wasn’t helped by the fact that the sound on this CD hybrid disc is set at a lower level than the original. That determined, and amplifier levels being constantly adjusted, I compared the Overture (tr. 1), Figaro’s Se vuol ballare (tr. 2), Cherubino’s Voi, che sapete (tr. 7) and the act 4 finale (trs. 15-18). Despite the compensating upward volume levels applied to the hybrid disc, the sound did not have the sheer punch of the well balanced and recorded original as found on the complete version. Nor did I find the stereo imaging, in width or depth, as impressive. The whole was flatter and lacking in presence compared to the complete set. It was as if one was looking at a painting through translucent rather than clear glass.

Despite having a new state of the art CD player, it does not have SACD facility, nor have I gone in for surround sound, so I was not able to take my audio comparisons any further. As to the contents of the disc, it contains all the expected vocal solos except Susanna’s Act 4 Deh vieni (score no. 28) that follows the recitativo Guinse al fin momento. Here the recit is followed by the rondo Al desio (tr. 13) which is given as an appendix in the complete set. I was not greatly enamoured of Judith Halász’s Susanna on the complete set and this seven minutes does nothing to alter my opinion. Nor are my opinions on the other soloists altered by this disc and I refer you for more detailed consideration of their strengths and weaknesses to my review of the complete set (LINK).

The booklet provides artist profiles and an excellent track related synopsis, the latter in German as well as English. Those not in the audiophile stakes and simply wanting a CD of Figaro highlights will find this disc satisfactory. Others with surround sound can test their equipment whilst listening to an opera with plenty of movement in the act 4 finale and the added pleasure of delicious melody throughout.

Robert J Farr



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