It is curious that, considering their revolutionary nature,
Mozart's mature operas are bookended by two opera seria. But 'Idomeneo',
is interesting not just as Mozart's take on opera seria, but as
a powerful, mature drama. Surprisingly, it was slow to come to popularity,
Glyndebourne's performances of the opera in the 1950s were nothing
short of revolutionary. Until then the opera had hardly been performed
at all since its premiere.
'Idomeneo' is an opera with a complicated textual
history. Mozart cut the opera before the first performance and
he tailored it to the specific singers available to the opera
company. The pivotal role of Idamante was written for a castrato.
Five years after the opera was premiered, it was privately performed
in Vienna and for these performances Mozart produced a new version
and sanctioned Idamante being performed by a tenor. Whether this
was anything more than a stop-gap solution is debatable. With
Idamante as a tenor, the opera requires four principal tenors
which seems rather much.
We get a pretty full version of the opera on
this disc, both arias for Arbace, Idamante’s acceptance of death
"No, la morte" and Elettra’s final venomous "D’Oreste,
d’Aiace" as well as Idomeneo’s "Torna la pace".
These were cut because of the length of the opera, but make a
great deal of sense in the context of a recording.
This recording dates from 1972, when a tenor
Idamante was more common, so it is no surprise to find that Idamante
is sung by Adolf Dallapozza. His singing is Italianate, robust
but stylish. His Idamante is entirely creditable rounded off with
a fine performance of his final aria. But he sounds rather mature,
so I did miss the youthful impetuousness that a soprano can bring
to this role. Also, there is insufficient difference in age between
Idamante and his father. Nicolai Gedda, as Idomeneo, does not
sound old enough to be Idamante's father, though his distinctive
tone means that he is well differentiated from Dallapozza (in
fact all four tenors on the disk are well differentiated.) I had
high hopes from Gedda's Idomeneo, but I was disappointed. He sounds
ill at ease in his first aria and 'Fuor del mar' is frankly disappointing
with the tone harsh and thin, though things improve slightly in
his last aria. Peter Schreier gets off to a shaky start as Arbace,
but once he finds his feet he is terrific. I was glad that he
had been allowed his second aria. The High Priest, Eberhard Büchner,
sounds less than high priestly. His reedy tones make his accompanied
recitative in Act 3 sound less than impressive.
As Illia, Anneliese Rothenberger is moving. But
in her first aria, the passage work is smudged and her second
aria is affecting but not a little effortful. Edda Moser makes
a striking Elettra. Her opening aria is furious, but under pressure
her voice has a tendency to be squally on top. She turns in some
lovely singing in her Act 2 aria, but I could not help feeling
that the performance as a whole was all rather prosaic and plodding,
though perhaps Schmidt-Isserstedt and the orchestra did not help.
She performs her final aria with an anger which carries you away,
letting you forgive the performance’s rather wayward qualities
The chorus make a fine clean sound and their
weighty singing of the chorus, "O voto tremendo" in Act 3 adds
considerably to the power of this act. The cast's powerful performance
in this Act, though, is rather let down by the voice of Neptune
which is so recessed as to be virtually indecipherable and is
a considerable let-down.
This is a thoroughly old-style performance. Where
John Eliot Gardiner takes the recitative briskly and conversationally,
Schmidt-Isserstedt prefers a relaxed, legato approach throughout.
Similarly, where Gardiner's accentuation is marked and rhythms
sharply defined, here it is smoother with a modern string sound
adding to the mellower effect, not to mention predominantly slower
speeds. And of course, there are few appoggiaturas. The overall
effect is to make the recitative, which is so important in this
opera, seem slow and sedate.
This recording is rather less than the sum of
its parts. The cast are impressive on paper, but fail to match
up to their promise in the studio. That said, it is a fine enough
if old fashioned performance
The remainder of this boxed set is something
of a mixed bag, with discs devoted to ballet music, church sonatas
Mozart wrote the incidental music to Tobias Gebler's
play 'Thamos, König in Ägypten' in the late 1770s. There
are 4 entr’actes and 3 choruses. It is his only incidental music
and deserves to be far better known. The entr’actes are all well
differentiated, the first is fiery, full of powerful gestures,
the second (an Andante) represents noble King Thamos and treacherous
Pheron, in the third a stormy G minor leads to a more tranquil
B flat section which was intended to form the backdrop to melodrama,
the fourth is a passionate allegro. The entr’actes form the centrepiece
of the music. It opens with a chorus and finishes with two more,
all three are substantial pieces mixing chorus with soloists and
are rather reminiscent of 'Die Zauberflöte'. They are given
rather robust performances by the Württembergisches Kammerchoir
und Orchester, marred only by slight untidiness in the choir.
The remainder of the disk is made up of ballet
music. The music from 'Idomeneo' is attractive, mature Mozart
though it does come as a bit of let-down if it is played as part
of the opera. Here the Slovak Sinfonietta under Taras Krysa give
a solid performance. The other ballet 'Les Petits Riens' is a
charming earlier work, consisting of an overture, six short movements
and a substantial closing gavotte.
The charming church sonatas were composed in
the 1770s to fill in gaps in the services in Salzburg Cathedral.
Often, these are recorded as if they are organ concertos whereas
the organ is generally little more than a continuo. Here the balance,
if anything, errs too much on the side of caution. The rather
discreet organ sound does not balance the rather forward, bright
sound made by the Collegium Jaroslav Tuma. They make a clean,
robust sound, performing the works in a straightforward manner
but they perform them with a chamber orchestra rather than with
just one instrument per part, which is the correct manner. This
would not be a first choice recording, but it does make an attractive
The final CD in the box is a curiosity indeed,
an entire CD devoted to Mozart's canons written for a variety
of different resources. The choral canons, sacred and secular,
are interspersed with instrumental canons written for clarinet
duo and trio, for two clarinets and bassoon and for string quartet.
There are 41 pieces on this CD, the longest being the Kyrie KV
89, though in reality this is a sequence of 3 canons. The majority
of the pieces last two minutes or less and despite their varied
nature, I am not sure that I would want to listen to the entire
CD at one sitting. The young choir makes a fine, clean sound and
they are aptly complemented by the wind and string soloists.
You cannot help feeling that Brilliant have used
this volume of the Mozart Edition to tidy up various unrelated
loose ends. It is helpful having the Idomeneo ballet music in
the same volume as the opera. But I am not entirely convinced
that many people will be enthusiastic about all the different
discs in this set. However, at super bargain price you could take
a risk and you might discover something.