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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Le nozze di Figaro (1786) (arr. for string quartet, 1799)
Marcolini Quartett (on period instruments)
rec. May 2006, Kolomanisaal, Cloister Melk, Austria
AVI-MUSIC 8553046 [64:29]

Le nozze di Figaro for string quartet – a joke? No, far from it. Only three days after the premiere of the opera a music shop in Vienna advertised arrangements of it for string quartet. There was also a reduction of the score for keyboard to be played separately or with the quartet. To understand this one has to know something about how different the musical world was more than 200 years ago compared to today. First of all the concept of copyright didn’t exist. In other words, there could be no legal claims on someone who utilized another composer’s works. It was rather the opposite case: a composer whose music became known through arrangements could take advantage of this when his music was spread. It was an honour and his works would be sought after. Relatively few people could afford to go regularly to the opera house but they could buy arrangements and play the music at home. This was the only possible way of hearing music outside the opera and concert halls; mechanical reproduction of music would take more than a century to be realized. Mozart himself once found an arrangement of Die Entführung aus dem Serail that he didn’t like and so provided his own reduction of the score to present his music in the best possible light.
Whether today’s opera-lovers will regard this arrangement as a must is uncertain, now that there are umpteen complete recordings with the world’s best opera singers to choose from. But it makes an interesting alternative and for those who still have difficulties stomaching classically-schooled voices it might be attractive for the sake of the music. Many years ago a record company – I think it was RCA Victor – launched a series with titles like “Classical Music for People who Hate Classical Music” and “Opera for People who Hate Opera”. There famous melodies were presented in posh arrangements; I think they sold well. My wife is a great opera lover but still thinks that the plot in some of these “run-in-run-out” operas where normally clever people don’t recognize their own wife or husband in disguise is a bit over the top. When listening to these arrangements she said: “Now I can enjoy this marvellous music without having to bother with the action.” Without agreeing with her on the matter of silly plots, I do share her enthusiasm for the arrangements and their execution. They were recorded from printed parts published by Simrock in Bonn. Simrock had good connections in Vienna, not least with his friend and one-time colleague in the Bonn orchestra, Beethoven. It seems likely that he had acquired the arrangements from there. Whether they are the ones mentioned earlier is unclear. The material was however recently found in the Benedictine Cloister Melk in Austria. There the monks had gathered one of the richest music collections in Europe, presumably out of pure musical interest and a wish to play good music in their spare time. The recordings were also made in the cloister on period instruments, so this might be a reconstruction of what could be heard in the same place two hundred years ago – provided the Benedictine brothers were as skilled players as the members of the Marcolini Quartett.
Comprising the overture and twenty musical numbers this hour+-long suite presents all the well-known arias and duets and also some numbers that are rarely heard outside complete performances: the Marcellina-Susanna duet in act 1 Che cara sposa!, the terzetto in act 2 with Count Almaviva, The Countess and Susanna and also the mercurial little duet for Susanna and Cherubino in the same act. From act 3 we hear, besides the expected numbers, the sestetto Riconosci in questo amplesso, where it is revealed that Figaro actually is the kidnapped son of Bartolo and Marcellina and from the last act both Barbarina’s and Marcellina’s arias are included. The playing is vivid, inspired and poised and it is definitely not just a gimmick. Lovers of string quartet music and opera should find a lot to enjoy and admire. Those who want to give a present to an opera-lover who already has “everything” have a golden opportunity here. I can even imagine that a group of aspiring singers, wanting an orchestra, could use the disc for karaoke Figaro.
Göran Forsling


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