Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
La Betulia Liberata

Azione sacra in due parte, KV 118

Ozia - Ernesto Palacio (tenor)
Giuditta - Gloria Banditelli (mezzo-soprano)
Amital - Lynda Russell (soprano)
Achior - Petteri Salomaa (baritone)
Cabri - Caterina Trogu Röhrich
Carmi - Sabina Macculi
Coro del Centro di Musica Antica di Padova
Orchestra da Camera di Padova e del Veneto/Peter Maag
Recording 15-21 June 1991, Palazzo Giusi, Padova (Licensed from Denon)
Die Schuldigkeit des Erstens Gebots

Erster teil eines geistlischen Singspiels, KV 35

Weltgeist - Arleen Augér (soprano)
Gerechtigkeit- Krisztina Laki (soprano)
Barmherzigkeit - Sylvia Geszty (soprano)
Christgeist - Werner Hollweg (tenor)
Christ - Claes H. Ahnsjö (tenor)
Berliner Domkapelle/Roland Bader
Recording 1980, Licensed from Koch International.
Die Freimaurermusiken (Freemasons Music)
Cantata "Laut verkünde unsre Freude", for 2 tenors, bass, men's chorus and orchestra KV 623
"Zerfliest heut' geliebte Brüder", for tenor, men's chorus and organ KV 483
"Lobesgesang auf die feierlich Johannisloge", for tenor, men's chorus and piano KV 148
"Ihr unsre neuen Leiter" for tenor, men's chorus and organ, KV 468
Cantata "Die Maurerfreude" for tenor, men's chorus and orchestra, KV 471
Mauerische Treuermusic KV477
Cantata "Die ihr des unermesslichen Weltalls Schöpfer ehrt" for tenor and piano, KV 619
Cantata "Dir, Seel des Weltalls, O Sonne" for 2 tenors, bass, men's chorus and orchestra KV 429

Christoph Prégardien (tenor)
Helmut Wildhaber (tenor)
Gottfried Hornik (bass)
Peter Schneyder (bass)
Chorus Viennensis
Wiener Akademie/Martin Haselböck
Recording 1991, Bratislava
Grabmusik, Cantata for Soprano, bass, choir, organ and orchestra, KV42 (a)
Davidde Penitente, Cantata for 2 sopranos, tenor, choir and orchestra KV 469 (b)

Edith Wiens (soprano) (a)
Thomas Hampson (baritone) (a)
Gertraud Landwehr-Herrmann (soprano) (b)
Susanne Johns (soprano) (b)
Hermann Fischer (tenor) (b)
Concentus Vocalis (a)
Wiener Akademie (a)
Choir and Orchestra Collegium Musicum of the University of Tübingen (b)
Martin Haselböck (conductor) (a)
Wilfried Fischer (conductor) (b)
Recorded 1990, Bratislava (a)
Licensed from Bayer Records (b)
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 99944 [6CDs 76.33, 69.15, 44.55, 45.41, 61.25, 69.35]


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Unlike many of the other genres in which he wrote, Mozart never returned to sacred oratorio after he left Salzburg. This means that we lack the final period, mature masterpiece to go with these earlier works. This is volume 22 of Brilliant's Mozart Edition and the series is at its best in works like these. They allow us, at a very moderate cost, to explore the byways of Mozart's genius in performances which, if not always consistent, are never less than interesting.

'La Betulia Liberata' was written when Mozart was fifteen to a text by Metastasio. The work was originally written in response to a commission from Don Giuseppe Ximenes, Prince of Aragon, who was living in Padua. Though, in his letters, Leopold Mozart implies that the work was submitted, it then drops from sight. It does not appear to have been performed as a result of the commission, nor does Mozart seem to have tried to revive it later on in his career. The work tells the story of Judith's liberation of the town of Betulia by going into the enemy camp, seducing their general, Holofernes, and beheading him. Despite the dramatic story, the work is essentially static. The principal dramatic moment happens off stage and the audience learns of it simply in a narration.

'La Betulia Liberata' is given here in a performance by forces based in Padua, so there are a creditable number of native Italian speakers in the cast. This is always an advantage in a work where much of the action takes place in recitative and the recitative in these performances is frequently particularly vivid.

Ernesto Palaccio as Ozia, has a bright, up-front sort of voice which promises much in the recitative. Unfortunately, the more virtuoso sections of his first aria rather defeat him, making a disappointing start to the work. In subsequent arias, Palaccio shows that he is able to be beautifully expressive in the slower, lyrical arias. But in his final aria he is again defeated by the passage work and the tessitura.

As Amital, Lynda Russell's bright soprano copes very well with both the high tessitura and the virtuoso nature of much of the writing and in the slower B sections of her arias, she proves to be affecting and moving.

In the important role of Giuditta, Gloria Banditelli sings firmly, even in the low lying passages, and shapes the phrases beautifully. But, in her first two arias she sounds rather too careful in the passage work, when the music and the dramatic situation asks for her to take charge. Again in her dramatic accompanied recitative, where she narrates the pivotal story of her beheading of Holofernes, she lacks drama and vividness. She makes a strong contribution to the final chorus where her contributions alternate with the striking ensembles of the choir accompanied by a lively violin figure.

Petteri Salomaa, as Achior, has a good baritone voice and in his second, more lyrical aria he turns in a fine performance. Unfortunately the low tessitura of his first, martial aria rather taxes him.

Caterina Trogu Röhrich has a single aria as Cabri and in it her stylish soprano is very moving. Sabina Macculi has one aria as Carmi, unfortunately she is lively but rather unfocussed and has a tendency to be a bit squally in the recitatives.

The chorus are not given overmuch to do but they sing neatly and crisply and relish what opportunities Mozart does give them. The orchestra, playing on modern instruments, give a crisp, incisive account of the music. Peter Maag's speeds are brisk without ever seeming too rushed. The booklet contains a detailed synopsis but no libretto.

This performance contains some very fine singing indeed. It is just unfortunate that Gloria Banditelli seems to be over cautious in the pivotal role of Judith and Ernesto Palaccio fails to cope with the virtuoso demands that Mozart puts on him.

The sacred drama, 'Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots' was written for Salzburg when Mozart was 12. The name translates as 'The Obligation of the First Commandment', and it unfolds a moral and mildly dramatic tale in which the characters are called Christian Spirit, Worldliness, Justice, Mercy and Christian. The manuscript is partly in Leopold Mozart's hand, so he may have helped the young Mozart in the composition. Either way, the work is pretty conventional though it is quite skilful in avoiding too many longueurs.

There is no chorus, just a sequence of arias and recitatives with a final trio. Written in German, there is quite a lot of recitative, delivered here with fine diction. So if your German is adequate, you will have little need of the libretto, which is in any case printed in German only with no English translation.

After a brisk, robust performance of the overture, Werner Hollweg's account of the first aria (as Christgeist) is very shapely, sung in a bright forward voice. But he has a tendency to be over dramatic, both this aria and his second one were sung a little too dramatically for me, I felt a more lyrical voice was needed. In his first aria his ornaments are rather weak. In his second aria there is also a hint of strain. But Hollweg is a most communicative artist and, particularly in his second aria with its rich accompaniment, makes a strong case for this music. He is at his best in his contributions to the final Terzetto.

As Barmherzigkeit, soprano Sylvia Geszty gets just a single aria, plus her contribution to the final Terzetto. Her aria opens with a remarkably long ritornello played in a suitably brisk and robust manner by the orchestra. But Geszty's contribution is a little disappointing, she proves rather weak in the virtuoso leaps that the music requires, but she is most affecting in the more lyrical middle section of the aria.

Gerechtigkeit (soprano, Kristina Laki) also gets a single aria. This one has a striking dancing string accompaniment, but Laki's soprano is rather careful, particularly in the ornamentation. The middle section is a rather unusual dramatic recitative.

The highlight of the recording are the two arias contributed by Arleen Augér as Weltgeist (she also sings in the final Terzetto). Both her arias are joyful and a joy to listen to. She is phased by neither the stratospheric tessitura nor the virtuoso coloratura requirements.

Tenor Claes H. Ahnsjö is rather lighter voiced than Werner Hollweg, which proves a useful differentiation between the two. As Christ, he has a dramatic accompagnato and a single aria. The aria has a significant horn obbligato, here played in a wonderfully mellifluous manner. Ahnsjö rises to the dramatics of the aria and the virtuoso requirements include a short, joint cadenza with the horn.

The piece closes with the only ensemble, a Terzetto for Christgeist, Barmherzighkeit and Gerechtigkeit. This is a rousing number, but at over 10 minutes length it rather outstays its welcome.

As with a lot of early Mozart, this music makes significant virtuoso demands on the singers. But on this recording the singers achieve a remarkable degree of commitment in this tricky music. The Berliner Domkapelle plays crisply and robustly for Roland Bader, his speeds are quite brisk, keeping the work moving without ever feeling rushed. Attractive though it is, I must confess to a sneaking feeling that all this talent might have had a better use in some later Mozart.

Apart from one item, all the pieces on the Freemasons Music disc are of mature Mozart. The exception is the early song "Lobesgesang auf die feierliche Johannisloge" which was written in 1772 to celebrate a Masonic anniversary. Mozart became a mason in 1784 and the remainder of the music on this disc dates from after then and was either written for Mason ceremonies or had some other connection to Freemasonry. Music was used in the ceremonies, performed at refreshment as entertainment and at public concerts, frequently given by the Lodges for charitable purposes. Mozart's lodge contained some very fine performers and the minutes of the Lodge meetings tell us that they often sat around after meetings, improvising into the small hours of the morning.

The first item on the disc, the cantata "Laut verkünde unsre Freude" is Mozart's last completed work. Traditionally he is said to have conducted it shortly before his death. Like a number of other pieces on this disc, it was written whilst Mozart was working on "Die Zauberflöte". The influence of Sarastro and his community rarely seems far away. The cantata consists of a graceful tenor aria and tenor/bass duet with rousing opening and closing choruses for men’s voices with a short duet for two tenors, all linked by recitative.

This is followed by a group of songs. All, apart from "Lobesgesang auf die feierliche Johannisloge", date from the mid 1780s. The songs are mainly strophic, with a male voice choir joining in the choruses. They are quite slight works, but attractively sung with the solo parts shared by the two tenors, Christoph Prégardien and Helmut Wildhaber.

The cantata "Die Maurerfreude" and the Masonic Funeral Music all date from the mid 1780s. The cantata is quite short, consisting of the usual mixture of aria and recitative, sung finely by tenor, Christoph Prégardien and concluding with a vigorous movement for tenor and chorus. The Masonic Funeral Music is the finest music on this record. Beautifully played by the Wiener Akademie one could only wish that this short work was much longer.

The Cantata "Die ihr des unermesslichen Weltalls Schöpfer ehrt" is another late work and was originally written for soprano soloist but is here given a fine performance by tenor, Helmut Wildhaber.

The Cantata "Dir, Seel des Weltalls, o Sonne" is another late work and was left incomplete at Mozart's death and was completed by Maximilian Stadler. It opens with a chorus which is the most developed piece of choral writing on the disc and the Chorus Viennensis make the most of their opportunity. This is followed by a charming tenor aria. But after this something goes wrong and, to the unprepared ear, it sounds at first as if a faulty take has been recorded. But once the ear becomes accustomed to the new sound world, it is soon apparent that this next section is a contemporary completion of the work. No information is given in the notes, but some research indicates that this part of the cantata is by Rainer Bischof. Bischof makes no concession to Mozartian style, writing in a contemporary serialist manner. More importantly, he does not try to bridge the gap between Mozart and himself, the music just changes gear suddenly. Bischof's music, whatever its virtues, is rather too over strenuous for the Mozartian joyfulness that has gone before. The last movement has another surprise, as the final chorus is a return to Mozart, reusing material from the first movement. Whether this is Mozart, Stadler or Bischof is not clear, but some elucidation in the notes would have been very useful.

All in all, this is a commendable disc. Both tenors give fine performances and they are well supported by Wiener Akademie, Chorus Viennensis, conductor Martin Haselböck and keyboard players. Not all the music is of the first order, but it is nearly all mid-period or late Mozart given in winning performances.

The final disc has performances of the early sacred drama, 'Grabmusik' and the late work, 'Davidde Penitente' ‘Grabmusik’ is a dialogue between the soul (baritone, Thomas Hampson) and an Angel (soprano, Edith Wiens). Both singers are responsive to Mozart's virtuoso demands. Singers, choir and orchestra give the sort of sympathetic performance which makes the most of the virtues and disguises the faults in this early Mozart.

It is a shame that the Tübingen forces performing 'Davidde Penitente' are not really up to the same standard. This piece dates from 1785 and it recycles the mature Mass in C minor, written two years earlier, sometimes re-using complete movements with new Italian words. So it calls for some rather sophisticated performances. The three soloists (Gertraud Landwehr-Herrmann and Susanne Johns, sopranos and Hermann Fischer, tenor) manage the taxing tessitura and virtuoso passages with aplomb without ever seeming completely at home and they all can sound a little frayed at the edges at times. The choral and orchestral forces are quite substantial and the chorus responds pretty well to the demands Mozart places upon them. This is a fairly adequate performance, but it is certainly not really up to the standards that such a fascinating work demands. Any Mozart lover will probably need to add a supplementary recording of this work to their library.

This is a fascinating assemblage of lesser known works by Mozart. All are given in creditable performance, a few caveats notwithstanding. ‘La Betulia Liberata’ has no libretto, just a text summary in English, but all the others have libretti in the original language without English translation. This may put some people off, but at super-budget price, this is an ideal set to explore the lesser known Mozart.

Robert Hugill

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