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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Così fan tutte (1790).
Ina Souez (soprano) Fiordiligi; Luise Helletsgruber (soprano) Dorabella; Heddle Nash (tenor) Ferrando; Willi Domgraf-Fassbänder (baritone) Guglielmo; John Brownlee (baritone) Don Alfonso; Irene Eisinger (soprano) Despina;
Chorus and Orchestra of the Glyndebourne Festival/Fritz Busch.
From Mozart Opera Society DB2474/9; DB2583/93S. Rec. by HMV at The Glyndebourne Theatre, Sussex on June 6th, 1934 and June 25th-28th, 1935. ADD
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110280/81 [2CDs: 154’21]


Fritz Busch, Glyndebourne and Mozart seem inextricably linked in the annals of recorded sound, and this invaluable document from Naxos shows exactly why. The cast work together miraculously; Busch’s pacing uniformly feels ‘right’; Ward Marston, as Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer, moves mountains to provide sound that is clear, uncluttered, transparent yet with body and space. As always, Malcolm Walker’s notes are a model of their kind.

As was common practice at the time, a piano is used to accompany the recitatives (not as difficult to attune one’s ears to as one might think). Text being possibly not as sacrosanct as it is nowadays, there are some cuts – the duettino in Act I between Ferrando and Guglielmo (‘Al fato dan legge’); three arias in Act II (‘Tradito, schernito dal perfido cor’, ‘Ah, lo veggio’ and ‘E amore un ladroncell’); plus a couple of other small excisions. What emerges, though, is a performance of the most perfect Mozartian grace, charm and wit. One would be hard-pressed to find a better cast for this opera in any period.

The Fiordiligi and Dorabella are well-differentiated. Their duet ‘Ah guarda, sorella’ (No. 4, track 5, CD1), demonstrates this amply. Fiordiligi is first to enter, and Souez (after some suave violin playing) sings with a light, almost soubrette tone. Helletsgruber, entering on the dominant (and separated by a lovely clarinet phrase), is more edgy, yet still cheeky. Their brief ‘cadenzas’ together at the end are delightful (on the word ‘amore’, funnily enough). Helletsgruber on occasion can be wobbly (the Act II Duetto ‘Prenderò quell brunettino’ furnishes a prime example, also ‘Il core di dono’ Act II, where the excess vibrato robs the line of its Affekt); Souez is less than 100% confident in the large leaps of ‘Come scoglio’. Later, though, her ‘Per pièta, ben mio, perdona’ would have stopped the show had this been live, the large intervals this time posing no problem. Yet the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts (the same sentiment encapsulates the entire recording, actually).

The well-known names of Heddle Nash and Willi Domgraf-Fassbänder take the parts of Ferrando and Guglielmo, respectively. Nash, an English lyric tenor, is capable of great tenderness. The way he floats his voice in ‘Un’Aura amorosa’ (Act 1) is remarkable. Domgraf-Fassbänder is a firm-voiced Guglielmo.

John Brownlee is the superb Don Alfonso. He has a nicely rounded tone but also has great presence. His staccati in his brief aria ‘Vorrei dir’ are perfectly placed, his comedic timing excellent (‘Morti … non son’).

The delightful role of Despina is taken by Irene Eisinger, who is the soubrette par excellence (no surprise to learn her repertoire also included Papagena and Susanna). Recitatives roll off her tongue deliciously (‘Che vita maledetta’, Act I Scene 8, for example) and her pitching is delightful Try her Act II aria ‘Una donna a quindici anni’ during which her high notes are so perfectly placed they almost ‘pop’. She is wonderful, with just the right lightness of approach.

Busch’s Mozartian credentials are well-documented and his sure hand steers the opera with a gorgeous sense of inevitability. The overture contains many of his strengths in microcosm, with the Glyndebourne Festival Orchestra in cracking form. One may find the Andante slow these days, but the various solos are marvellously phrased - and how affectionately shaded is the opera’s visiting card (which is to later set the words ‘Così fan tutte’) just before the bustling Allegro kicks in. Here it is not difficult to imagine the atmosphere in the theatre, pre-curtain up. Ensembles work magnificently, balanced and paced miraculously by the conductor. The joy and spirit of Mozart’s marvellous work are fully on show here. Musically, this is a wonderful achievement and, in sonic terms, it comes up bright as a button in Ward Marston’s restoration.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Paul Shoemaker


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