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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Cosi fan tutte - Dramma giocoso in Two acts.
Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte
First performed at the Vienna Hofburgtheater, 26 January 1790
Fiordiligi, Sena Jurinac (sop); Dorabella, Alice Howland (sop); Ferrando, Richard Lewis (ten); Guglielmo, Marko Rothmüller (bar); Don Alfonso, Sesto Bruscantini (bar); Despina, Isa Quesnel (sop)
Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Fritz Busch
Recorded live, 5 July 1951, plus interpolations
GUILD HISTORICAL - IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES - GHCD 2303-04 [79.42 + 70.05]

 

Fritz Busch’s Glyndebourne Così was recorded in 1935 but this live broadcast dates from the period of the conductor’s post-War return. It exists in two copies both preserved by collectors, one on acetate and one on tape. Neither has emerged unscathed and both suffered from considerable problems – pitch extremes, gaps and missing portions (most damagingly the Overture, which has had to be spliced from the commercial 1935 set). Restorer and Supremo Richard Caniell has also patched from the 1951 EMI excerpts selection made by these Glyndebourne forces in the same year (Busch, Jurinac and Lewis) and also from the surviving 1940 Busch-Stockholm performance. So, problems, and pause for thought. I should add at the outset that Guild details all these problems with commendable honesty and straight-forwardness. They fudge nothing.

It’s interesting to note that Spike Hughes’ history of Glyndebourne mentions this 1951 Così almost by default; none of the other three Mozart operas ever took wing in the same way as [the same season’s] Idomeneo Only Così, dominated by the triumphant Fiordiligi of Sena Jurinac, had anything of the quality which had made this Glyndebourne’s particular show-piece. This may or may not be true – it’s probably more true than not in terms of all-round ensemble - but it’s certainly true that Busch retained, up to the very end of his life, a very special command of Mozartian tempo relations. Hughes always credited him, Bruno Walter and Richard Strauss as the greatest Mozart opera conductors he had heard. Would that Strauss had left behind his own Così or Figaro.

Beyond the technical considerations relating to the degradation of sound I should add that there is some overload and blasting, that the sound comes and goes and that the patching (especially in the middle of an aria or trio for example) always sounds like a patch. As the sound degrades on one tape the other, much brighter, is used. The results are obviously problematic. There are also muffled entrances, faulty vocal balances and the expected exigencies of a live broadcast.

But this is to state it at its worst. At its best the sound is certainly listenable; certainly not up to good quality American or German off-air material of the time it’s true but then this release has been at the mercy of its source material. And there is the cast to consider. First there is indeed Jurinac. Right from the off in the Scene II duet Ah guarda, sorella she is right on the note; finely nuanced, characterful, beautiful of tone. Rightly her Act II Scene II aria Per pietà, ben mio stops the show – frantic applause here. Here and elsewhere she marries intimacy with declamation and rides over the aural limitations with ease, showing fascinating understanding of her role. Lewis hasn’t a predecessor such as Nash’s minstrelsy of tone but he has liquid ease and fine tone production. His mezza voce (hear Un aura amorosa but note that this is a splice from both surviving editions so sound varies) is excellent. At first he seems over parted by the Guglielmo of Marko Rothmüller but this is doubtless a question of stage management and balance is regained later in the Act. Sesto Bruscantini’s Don Alfonso is a strong though not really characterful presence in specifically vocal terms; it’s not an intrinsically beautiful voice but it’s well focused and doesn’t spread. His impersonation on the other hand is special, character acting that comes across the years and across, indeed, the degraded grooves. The American mezzo, Alice Howland, is also not in the first league and her aria Smanie implacabli che m’agrite doesn’t ignite as it should. The Despina of Isa Quesnel, on the other hand, fits securely and appositely in terms of vocal colour and quick-wittedness, into the ensemble. Busch employs a piano continuo as was customary with him. He zips along the recits and he and Carl Ebert convey the horseplay on stage as well as the darker occluded elements. Above all else Busch is the wizardly presence on the rostrum.

But is this an essential purchase and is it an essential purchase even for admirers of Busch? Given the state of the recording and given that the 1935 commercial set is widely available I would answer ‘no’ generally and ‘yes’ for Busch admirers. Problematic sound rules it out of court for the generalist and for all the Guild team’s proselytising the fact of the matter is that the rest of the cast isn’t quite up to Jurinac’s consistently inspired level. For specialists only, then.

Jonathan Woolf

 

See also review by Robert Farr

 



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