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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.