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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791) Die Entführung aus dem Serail (highlights)
Act I: Hier soll ich dich denn sehen, Konstanze! (Belmonte); Solche hergelauf’ne Laffen (Osmin); Konstanze! Dich wieder zu sehen! O wie ängstlich (Belmonte); Singt dem grossen Bassa Lieder (Chorus); Ach, ich liebte, war so glücklich (Konstanze)
Act II: Durch zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln (Blonde); Ich gehe, doch rate ich dir (Blonde, Osmin); Martern aller Arten (Konstanze); Vivat Bacchus! Bacchus lebe! (Pedrillo, Osmin); Ach Belmonte! Ach mein Leben! (Konstanze, Blonde, Belmonte, Pedrillo)
Act III: Ich baue ganz auf deine Stärke (Belmonte); O, wie will ich triumphieren (Osmin); Nie werd’ ich deine Huld verkennen (Konstanze, Blonde, Belmonte, Pedrillo, Osmin)
Yvonne Kenny (soprano) – Konstanze; Lillian Watson (soprano) – Blonde; Peter Schreier (tenor) – Belmonte; Wilfried Gahmlich (tenor) – Pedrillo; Matti Salminen (bass) – Osmin; Chorus and Mozart-Orchestra of the Opera House, Zürich/Nicolaus Harnoncourt
Recorded in the Opera House, Zürich, in 1985
WARNER APEX 2564 61509-2 [73:02]


Nicolaus Harnoncourt has often been controversial in his interpretations of post-baroque music. This twenty-year-old recording of The Abduction from the Seraglio as it is known in English, is no exception. I started my listening by putting on Karl Böhm’s recording from the 1970s, generally regarded as one of the best versions. The overture was as I remembered it: lean, rhythmically alert, well balanced, the strings well in the foreground, in other words just as it should be. A quick glance at the covers told me that Harnoncourt was a few seconds faster, but that difference was what I had expected. When I changed over to Harnoncourt my first reaction was: the signal is very low, I have to turn up the volume. I didn’t have to. After the first pianissimo bars, here played ppp, the fortissimo started ffff and almost threw me out of my chair. The percussion section, which should be thrilling in this Turkish style music, was right on my lap, playing very aggressively, very staccato; probably they were augmented too with all the percussionists Zürich could muster. Thrilling, no doubt, but was this what Mozart had in mind? The next shock came in the contrasting middle section. Böhm keeps things moving even here, while Harnoncourt, whose initial tempo was noticeably faster than Böhm’s, slows down to a near stand-still and then adopts an unabashedly romantic attitude with myriads of hairpin dynamics. It is as if Bruckner had been there and "corrected" the score. I am exaggerating, of course, but not much. While Böhm is careful to differentiate between forte and piano, between the outer sections and the middle one, he also shows that they belong together: he integrates them, and I think that is right. Harnoncourt goes to extremes in both directions, which means that the music doesn’t belong anywhere: it isn’t baroque, it isn’t romantic, but it isn’t classicistic either. And this happens ever so often throughout this disc, the Janissaries’ chorus being the most obvious example. Still it makes you think anew, it is refreshing and I feel a bit ashamed for not being open-minded enough. But when you have accepted the approach, or at least got used to it, there is a lot to admire in this recording. So let’s move over to the singing.

And here are many delights. The first voice we hear is that of Peter Schreier, instantly recognisable. It is not one of those sappy voices and not one of the most beautiful either. He is no match for Fritz Wunderlich or Leopold Simoneau on that account. But it is a very flexible voice, used with great intelligence and feeling for the text as befits a renowned Lieder-singer, and his pianissimo singing is ravishing. He was in marginally fresher voice ten years earlier, when he recorded this part with Böhm, but the difference is negligible. Osmin is sung, and acted, with great aplomb by Matti Salminen. He has been one of the really great basses, in a variety of roles, for many years, and his capacity is still undiminished, as readers who heard the concert performance of Die Meistersinger at Royal Festival Hall in June 2004, should be well aware. Osmin is a dream role for any great bass and Salminen rightly dominates every scene he takes part in. Wilfried Gahmlich in the secondary tenor part as Pedrillo, has a clear, light voice that he uses well in what little we hear from him. I would have liked to hear him in my old favourite aria Im Mohrenland gefangen war, but of course not everything could be included. The disc is already well filled.

The ladies also acquit themselves well, but a little anonymously. Yvonne Kenny has all the notes and sings beautifully as Konstanze but would have got deeper into the character had she recorded it a little later in her career. Still it is a feat in itself to execute the heroine’s difficult music with such ease. For recording purposes Lillian Watson’s voice isn’t enough different from Miss Kenny’s; in the two ensemble pieces it is a bit tricky to tell who’s who unless you have a libretto and Warner supply their usual synopsis without cues. Miss Watson also sings well but I would wish for a more mercurial Blonde. Reri Grist on Böhm’s set and, even more, Rita Streich on the old Fricsay set, are ideal.

For a really recommendable recording of this delightful work I would suggest Böhm. It has Arleen Augér as an ideal Konstanze and also the sonorous Kurt Moll as a serious and formidable Osmin. Fricsay, recorded almost fifty years ago and in mono only, has a fluttery Maria Stader as Konstanze, and Ernst Haefliger and Josef Greindl as Belmonte and Osmin. Both sets are on DG and should be available at mid-price.

But if you can accept Harnoncourt’s approach, this highlights disc at a give-away price, offers you a wealth of good singing. Schreier and Salminen are reasons enough to buy it.

Göran Forsling

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