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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Zauberflöte, K 620 (Highlights)
Pamina, Barbara Hendricks (sop); Tamino, Jerry Hadley (ten); Papageno, Thomas Allen, (bar); Sarastro, Robert Lloyd (bass); Queen of the Night, June Anderson, (sop); Papagena, Ulrike Steinsky, (sop); Speaker, Gottfried Hornik (bar); Monostatos, Helmut Wildhaber (ten)
Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Chorus/Sir Charles Mackerras
rec. Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland, 13-22 July 1991
TELARC CD-80345 [77.00]

As well as a conductor, Sir Charles Mackerras is a scholar. He studied the performance practice of Mozart during the composer’s lifetime, becoming convinced that 20th century performances did not reflect what the composer intended. He was able to put his researches into practice with interested singers in various theatres and was well received.
 
For more than two decades the conductor himself and opera loving record buyers shared a frustration. He was frustrated to be overlooked when it came to recording his interpretations as the various major companies preferred their contracted maestros, whether experienced Mozartians in the opera house or not. All was saved when Telarc came along with a series of recordings in the 1990s of which this Die Zauberflöte was one of the earliest. These recordings do allow us to hear what Mackerras had been on about for the previous twenty or more years. His concerns, as he explains in a brief booklet essay (pp.14-16), concern two major facets of performance. First are ornaments by the singers of the vocal line in the form of appoggiatura and ornaments and secondly orchestral instrumentation and tempi which have a fundamental effect on the character and feel of a performance. Mackerras argues that the more sonorous modern day instruments demand bigger voices and mean a slowing down of the music, often making it more ponderous. When Mackerras made this recording the period instrument bands and their conductors had already broken the tempo barrier but did not tackle the matter of ornaments with any consistency. In this recording appoggiaturas are sung as practised in Mozart’s time, and there are occasional improvised ornaments. The appoggiaturas, actually written by Mozart as small notes, are sung at their noted value. Mackerras explains that these often provide a lilting syncopation to the melody and sometimes give variety to the expression of the words as in Tamino’s Die Bildnis aria (tr.3).
 
This disc provides a generous selection from the complete recording. It contains all the major arias of the opera omitting the dialogue and abbreviating the two finales and Pamina’s Ach ich fühl’s (tr. 16). If you want the sound of Sarastro’s lions it is given as an appendix (tr. 23) for appropriate insertion. Mackerras’s typically fleet and well-shaped overture is included (tr. 1) and constitutes an excellent introduction as well as illustrating the comparison in speeds between his and other interpreters. Mackerras’ speed at 6.30 minutes compares with Haitink’s 7.30. Böhm’s 7.14 and Marriner, at 6.53, seemingly fleet in comparison with them. The same kinds of differences in speeds are found in the remainder of the disc and bring a new perspective to the work. Where the ideal falls down is in the size and flexibility of the voices of some of the soloists. Neither Barbara Hendricks nor June Anderson can fully realise Mackerras’s ideal. In compensation Thomas Allen (trs. 2, 6 and 19) and Robert Lloyd (trs. 9 and 14), perhaps reflecting their extensive experience in these roles on stage, which I have enjoyed, bring greater character to their interpretations.
 
Telarc have a reputation as truthful recordists not passing the digital signal through any processing device. Recorded in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall, it was made in association with performances scheduled during the city’s renowned International Festival. Whilst these highlights might not tempt you to buy the complete opera, they do provide a cheap and ideal opportunity to sample insights into Mackerras’s seminal thinking as to the performing practice of Mozart’s operas as would have been heard in the composer’s lifetime. This thinking has become more fully recognised through these Telarc recordings and has subsequently, and increasingly, influenced contemporary practice and justifies my recommendation.
 
Robert J Farr
 

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