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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]


The emergence of the LP in the early 1950s produced a quite massive explosion in the issue of complete operas on record. Not only were twenty or more 78-rpm discs reduced to five or six, but also with lightweight pickups one didn’t have to sharpen or change the needle between sides either. Currently, as the original LPs come out of copyright, many of those recordings are now available to us on CD at bargain price. Further, as a consequence of the development of audio technology and the CD they can be enjoyed in far superior sound than could be experienced with the original LPs. The mad recording scramble of that period often involved contracting artists exclusively and plundering festivals for rehearsed productions, often recording live performances. In this scramble, together with the specific requirements of those exclusively contracted artists, particularly conductors, some ‘should have’ recording opportunities were missed. Glyndebourne had been the basis of several seminal Mozart recordings before 1939 where Ebert and Busch had developed an ensemble of true quality. On Busch’s return to Glyndebourne in 1951, performances of Cosi were scheduled. Contemporary commentators enthused about his conducting and the singing, and the delectable appearance, of the Yugoslav soprano Sena Jurinac (b. 1921) as Fiordiligi. No commercial recordings were made of the performances although a highlights disc was recorded involving Jurinac along with Richard Lewis and the Glyndebourne Chorus under Busch. It has taken super sleuth Richard Caniell thirty years to track down any preservation of the performances. In the booklet, he recounts (pp. 21-22) how he located two such preservations within months of each other, albeit with many defects and in relatively poor sound. Using what he calls artistic licence Caniell has utilised the highlights disc and the 1935 Glyndebourne recording to patch in parts of this performance where the sources were too damaged to use. I explain this in some detail, as I know some purists find the practice less acceptable than I do.

Has the wait and work been worthwhile, and does the performance live up to its reputation heard by ears that have heard many Cosi recordings since? Certainly the conducting of Busch confirms his reputation in this opera. Just three months before his death from a heart ailment, on 14 September 1951, he conducts the work with a vitality and elegance that is most appealing. In Sena Jurinac he had one of the finest Mozart singers of the day. Her beautifully supported tone, fine diction and elegant phrasing can be heard throughout in the many ensembles and particularly in Fiordiligi’s two great solos, the aria Come scoglio (CD 1 tr. 27) and the rondo Per pieta, (CD 2 tr. 12). The colour of her voice throughout its range is formidable considerably abetting her characterisation and the performance takes on an added vibrancy when she is involved. That is not to imply that others in the cast do not play a full part in making the performance the success so widely recognised. Richard Lewis (1914-1990) starts a little huskily but is soon into his elegant stride as Ferrando. In the heady sensitivity of his singing and phrasing he is ideally matched by the Guglielmo of Marko Rothmüller. Their contribution to the many ensembles is a delight. Although Alice Howland as Dorabella is no match for Sena Jurinac in their duets in terms of beauty of tone or phrasing she does convey the role’s more flirty character. The two schemers, Despina sung by Isa Quesnel and Don Alfonso by Sesto Bruscantini, are less attractively matched vocally, although both characterise well. This is possibly due to my perception of Bruscantini’s heavy tones and rather biting phrasing. He commands rather than persuades.

As to whether there are enough positives to make for an outright buy recommendation this will depend on individual response to the very variable sound. On some tracks the hiss is intrusive, in others there are extraneous noises (CD 2 tr. 15), whilst in the finale to act 1 (CD 1 tr. 35) the sound breaks up. As always Richard Caniell is fully honest as regards the doctoring and interpolations from other sources he has had to carry out (booklet pp. 21-22). Despite these factors and the constricted sound, somewhat recessed, this is a recording that can be listened to without too much difficulty. If you listen through the sonic restrictions I suggest the singing and overall vitality of the performance will give much pleasure. There are not many better renderings of Per pieta on disc. That is to quote just one example of Jurinac’s consummate portrayal which, together with Busch’s conducting, makes this performance one of those frustrating examples where record company martinets of fifty years ago couldn’t recognise quality product when it stared them in the face and was there for all to hear.

This is an issue collectors and opera lovers should set alongside whichever favourite versions currently grace their shelves. It will not shame its neighbours.

 

Robert J. Farr



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