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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
(1736 – 1791)
Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo (Cosi fan Tutte); Un bacio di mano, K541; Ich möchte wohl der Kaiser sein!K539
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 – 1827) Prüfung des Küssens, WoO 89; Mit Mädeln sich vertragen, WoO 90
Joseph HAYDN (1732 – 1809) Dice benissimo, Hob XXIVb:5; Un cor si tenero, Hob XXIVb:11
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1736 – 1791) Vedro mentr’io sospiro (Le Nozze di Figaro)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828) Sei mir gegrüsst; Der Jäger ruhte hingegossen (Alfonso und Estrella)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1736 – 1791) Mentre ti lascio, K513; Io ti lascio, K Anh.245
Thomas Hampson (baritone)
Concentus Musikus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Recorded Musikverein, Vienna, 23-27 May 2003
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 62257-2 [61.22]
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In the 18th century every revival of an opera was different. If the composer was supervising then he would adapt the musical text to suit the singers, often taking advantage of the occasion to improve the work. If the composer was not present, then a local ‘hack’ would be tasked with re-working the music, providing suitable extra arias for the singers. On occasion, this was work undertaken by both Mozart and Haydn and often they provided arias that deserve hearing. In fact Mozart was rather competitive about writing extra arias for other people’s operas. He was determined that his contribution would be better than the original.

This recital enable us to hear a number of these extra arias. The first on the disc is in fact an alternative aria from one of Mozart’s own operas. Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo is a mock heroic effort intended as the high point of Act 1 of Cosi fan Tutte, to be sung by Guglielmo. Mozart seems to have decided that it was too long and showy so it was replaced by the simpler patter song Non siate ritrosi. Rivolgete is worth hearing, with its references to mythical figures, and Hampson projects both words and characterisation wonderfully whilst not forgetting the necessary virtues of a good vocal line needed in this music. These are virtues which Hampson displays throughout the recording.

Un bacio di mano is a charming arietta which Mozart wrote for Anfossi’s comedy Le gelosie fortunate. The aria displays a sceptical view of women’s fidelity in common with Cosi fan tutte. Mozart would re-use the melody in the first movement of the Jupiter. Hampson follows this with a number which is great fun but rather less sophisticated, Ich möchte whol der Kaiser sein!; a jingoistic song written at the time of war with the Turks. It uses a whole panoply of "Turkish" instruments.

Whilst Mozart was reaching the end of his short life, Beethoven was cutting his teeth as a composer of operatic arias at the court of the Elector in Bonn. Prüfung des Küssens and Mit Mädeln sich vertragen were both written for Joseph Lux, a bass at the Elector’s court. In them Beethoven combines the German Singspiel idiom with more sophisticated Italian style. The results are attractive and Hampson characterises the arias well, relishing Beethoven’s word-setting.

In the 1780s Haydn devoted much of his time to operatic performances for Prince Nicolaus Esterhazy. Not only did he write operas of his own but he adapted and directed those of other composers, providing additional items where necessary. Dice benissimo is a comic aria written for inclusion in Salieri’s comedy La scuola de gelosi which had recently been a hit in Italy. This contrasts nicely with the more serious, Un cor si tenero; an elegant cantabile number written for Francesco Bianchi’s Il disertore francese.

The Count’s Revenge aria from Le nozze di Figaro was re-written by Mozart to suit the singer in the 1789 Viennese revival; the aria takes advantage of the singer’s brilliant top register and includes a new ending in grand opera seria style. It is a fascinating example of a composer adapting his own work for different casts.

Schubert’s efforts in opera were less successful, though he nurtured ambitions in this vein throughout his life. His Alfonso und Estrella sets a libretto by his friend Franz von Schober. The result is hopelessly untheatrical and stood no chance in a Vienna obsessed by the operas of Rossini. Hampson sings two lovely arias from the opera but both are rather redundant dramatically. However they contain fine examples of Schubert’s lyricism and Hampson relishes both the lovely lyric moments and the big dramatic episodes. His lovely phrasing in these pieces is all that you could wish for.

The disc ends with a pair of arias by Mozart, both connected to Mozart’s friend, the amateur bass Gottfried von Jacquin. Mentri ti lascio is an agonised farewell of a father to his daughter, which Mozart colours with chromaticism and sumptuous orchestration. Io ti lascio was written during Mozart’s final summer. Jacquin seems to have supplied the vocal line and bass part and Mozart the upper string parts.

This is one of the best things that Thomas Hampson has done in a long time. His vocal health on the disc is a pleasant surprise. Despite singing a number of heavy Romantic roles, his voice has kept its elegance of line but to this is added a greater depth and a wonderful way with the words. One of the joys of the disc is the way Hampson projects the lively texts whilst never losing sight of the musical values.

He is ably supported by Harnoncourt and Concentus Musicus Wien. Not all the pieces require elaborate orchestration, but when given their head the orchestra relish their opportunities. This is a well put together programme, beautifully performed which makes a good case for a group of often neglected arias.

Robert Hugill



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