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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
A Mozart Gala from the Salzburg Festival
Don Giovanni, K527: Overture [5:54]
Madamina, il catalogo č questo [6:10]
Dalla sua pace++ [5:26]
Mitridate, re di Ponto, K87: Nel grave tormento^ [5:09]
La clemenza di Tito, K621: Se all’imperio++ [5:33]
Parto, ma tu ben mio* [7:04]
Cosě fan tutte, K588 : Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo, K584+ [5:39]
Idomeneo, K366: Overture [5:10]
Se il padre perdei ^^ [6:40]
S’io non moro a questi accenti**/^^ [5:58]
D’Oreste, d’Aiace* [6:43]
Symphony No.38 in D, K504 ‘Prague’ [24:52]
*Anna Netrebko (soprano); **Magdalena Kožená (soprano); ^Patricia Petibon (soprano); ^^Ekaterina Siurina (soprano); +Thomas Hampson (baritone); ++Michael Schade (tenor), René Pape (bass); Anton Holzapfel (harpsichord);
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Daniel Harding.
rec. Felsenreitschule, Salzburg Festival, 30 July 2006. NTSC Colour 16:9. PCM stereo/DTS 5.0. Region 0.
Titles in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Chinese.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON UNITEL 004400734430 [93:00] 


Experience Classicsonline

The 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth followed too hard on the heels of the bicentenary of his death to be as fully celebrated as that earlier occasion. It brought us much less of a recording legacy, too, though what we have is not without its value – the present Gala recording being a case in point. As the notes in the booklet remind us, such events can often be tawdry affairs; such is emphatically not the case here. Had I been there on the night, I’m sure I’d have enjoyed it hugely and would have waited eagerly for this DVD to appear as a memento of the occasion, just as I’m sure that I’d have snapped up the DVD of the New Year’s Day Concert had I ever been fortunate enough to attend. The appeal of the DVD for the general music-lover is bound to be of a lower order. 

I’m not sure that video adds a great deal to our enjoyment, except, of course, in managing to contain on one disc what would inevitably have overflowed on CD or SACD. I note that a debate in The Times has opened up the issue of the extent to which the presence of cameras at several of the 2008 Proms and at the opening night of the Royal Opera House season interfered with the enjoyment of those in the audience. 

At the same time, a parallel debate continues about the extent to which video can distort an opera by panning from one angle to another and showing detailed expressions which would be invisible in the hall. The Farao DVDs of Handel’s Rodelinda were spoiled for me by close-ups of sneering faces. (D108060 – see review.) There are some music DVDs which I can’t bear to watch – I have a DVD player wired into my audio system to hear them without the pictures. 

All of which is a lengthy prelude to my saying that, although there were details on this recording that became irksome with repetition – the walking-on of each soloist through an artificial shrubbery, for example, complete with visible terracotta pots – I didn’t on this occasion find the visual presentation too off-putting. I wasn’t too enamoured, however, of the floodlit monumental archway behind the orchestra, all too redolent of the Pearl & Dean commercials which used to grace the adverts in British cinemas, or the blue-sky background with distant trees. 

Too ‘busy’ a backdrop distracts from the listener’s attention, as is also the case with DVDs of the Viennese New Year’s concerts. It’s one thing to be in the Goldener Saal or the Felsenreitschule, quite another for them to be the backdrop to a broadcast or DVD. The actual picture quality is good – who needs blu-ray with DVD as good as this with hdmi up-scaling on HD television?

The performer credits are almost self-recommending, with a starry line-up of singers – for once, the blurb on the front about ‘seven outstanding Mozart singers’ gets it right – and an orchestra who could probably play Mozart in their sleep, all under the control of the up-and-coming British conductor Daniel Harding, who gets the entertainment off to a flying start with a performance of the Don Giovanni overture. 

The performance of the overture contains just the right mix of menace and lightness, though I found the close-up shots as disconcerting as I usually do. Do we really need to see, say, the timpani being whacked to know who is playing? Close-ups of individual performers are psychologically disconcerting because they are at odds with the static stereo or surround-sound stage. 

René Pape’s catalogue aria gets the vocal items off to a good start, too. It would surely be a show-stopper in a performance of the opera and fully deserves the encomium from Die Presse quoted on the DVD cover. He slightly misses the knowing little pause before Ma in Espagna ... which some singers employ effectively, but he is otherwise well into his role, albeit that most of the audience probably couldn’t see the lifted eyebrows and other facial expressions. The enthusiasm which he puts into his voice as he describes the various types of delectable femininity would certainly have been conveyed to the audience. 

The English translation of this and the other vocal items is idiomatic but I’m going to air my usual complaint that it isn’t possible to have the original Italian and the translation on-screen simultaneously. It should be possible. 

Michael Schade’s Dalla sua pace inevitably makes less impact, especially as he includes the prefatory recitative – accompanied on a large-scale harpsichord – but he sings with real feeling, again fully into his role, with a blend of delicacy and power. I wonder how well the audience heard the quieter sections, though they come over well on the recording. I just wondered why we needed to see him so close up that we could examine his lapel badges; at times his head more than fills the whole screen. He returns later for Se all’imperio from la Clemenza, a very different piece which he sings equally well. 

Patricia Petibon sings Nel grave tormento sweetly but with plenty of power where it’s needed. Perhaps this early Mozart doesn’t give her the same chance to shine as the other soloists, but she certainly doesn’t let the side down. Nor does Magdalena Kožená in Parto, ma tu ben mio. 

Thomas Hampson offers a fine account of Rivolgete, an aria which Mozart omitted from the final version of Cosě. He’s just a little heavy for the part – his voice is more suited to Mahler’s Lied von der Erde, where he makes a valuable contribution to the Tilson Thomas-San Francisco recording which I recently reviewed – and Mozart was probably right to delete this aria, but I have no major complaints about this item, either. 

Tracks 9-12 offer a mini-programme of excerpts from Idomeneo, commencing with an effective account of the overture. 

Ekaterina Siurina sings Se il padre perdei very affectively but the joint first prize must go to her idyllic duet with Magdalena Kožená and to the fire and drama of Anna Netrebko in Elettra’s aria. For once seeing the singer’s movements and expressions added considerably to the sum of things – it was a real surprise when Netrebko smiled again at the end. That these accolades should be awarded to music from an opera which is not usually reckoned to be one of Mozart’s greatest – I can’t remember when I last dug out my Harnoncourt recording of this drama per musica – means that all the more credit must go to these performers. 

You probably wouldn’t buy the DVD for the orchestral music which frames the concert, with the Don Giovanni overture at the beginning and the Prague Symphony as finale, but the symphony receives a good, fairly ‘traditional’, performance with tempi only a little faster than, say, those of Bruno Walter, whose stereo recordings of the last 6 Mozart symphonies I still treasure alongside more recent versions. (CBS M2YK45676, unfortunately not currently available.) Tony Duggan’s words about a different (live) Walter version of Mozart’s Symphony No.40 express my feelings exactly: “Mozart from another world as valid and important as any you will hear.” Harding’s Prague Symphony isn’t that special, but it certainly makes a fine conclusion to the concert and the DVD and it’s rather more of today’s world, more cognisant of period practice. Here, as throughout the programme, Harding and the VPO avoid any sense of heaviness, with some especially delicate violin playing in the symphony. 

It seems invidious to choose among Mozart’s final symphonies but I have seen a very strong case made for regarding the Prague as the greatest of them: it certainly manages to pack a great deal of wonderful music into its small three-movement space. The arrangement is neat in that Giovanni, which opened the concert, was premiered in Prague. Also, of course, the symphony was written in honour of the city which valued Mozart most highly, and which inspired that wonderful little novelle about Mozart’s visit to that city for the Giovanni premiere, Eduard Mörike’s Mozart auf der Reise nach Prag

The Felsenreitschule is clearly a large (1400+ seats), partly outdoor, venue but the engineers cope very well. Even as ordinary television sound, the recording is more than adequate. Heard via an AV receiver the soundstage is very convincing, without the extreme separation which sometimes afflicts DVD sound. 

Neil Kimberley’s brief notes are valuable. 

This may not be the most essential Mozart DVD on the market – I’d go first for DVDs of one or more of the less quirky opera productions first, such as Riccardo Muti’s 1999 Don Giovanni on TDK2055451 or DVW-OPDG – but I can’t imagine anyone regretting the outlay.

Brian Wilson


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