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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
The Mozart Album

Le nozze di Figaro: Giunse alfin il momento … Deh vieni, non tardar (Susanna) + ٭[3:32]; Ho già vinto la causa! … Vedrò mentr’io sospiro (The Count)¹#[4:53]; La clemenza di Tito: Parto, parto, ma tu, ben mio (Sesto)º§[6:42]; Don Giovanni: Madamina, il catalogo è questo (Leporello)²§[5:59]; Idomeneo: Oh smania! oh furie … D’Oreste. d’aiace (Elettra)+٭[6:06]; Die Zauberflöte: In diesen heil’gen Hallen (Sarastro)³£; Don Giovanni: Fuggi, crudele, fuggi! (Donna Anna, Don Ottavio)٭^+ [6:19]; Là ci darem la mano (Zerlina, Don Giovanni)٭²§[3:27]; Die Zauberflöte: Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (Queen of the Night)ª£[3:01]; Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja (Papageno)²§[2:47]; La clemenza di Tito: Ah, perdona al primo affetto (Annio, Servilia)٭º§[3:04]; Idomeneo: Zeffiretti lusinghieri (Ilia)+٭[6:41]; Così fan tutte: Soave sia il vento (Fiordiligi, Dorabella, Don Alfonso)˚י¹#;
Anna Netrebko (soprano)٭, Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone)¹, Elīna Garanča (mezzo)ŗ, Thomas Quasthoff (bass-baritone)², René Pape (bass)³, Christoph Strehl (tenor)^, Erika Miklósa (soprano)ª, Miah Persson (soprano)˚, Christine Rice (mezzo)י;
Orchestra Mozart/Claudio Abbado+; Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras#; Staatskapelle/Sebastian Weigle§; Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Claudio Abbado£
rec. Teatro Manzoni, Bologna, March 2005+; Teatro Comunale, Modena, September 2005£; City Hall, Glasgow, April 2006#; Palais im Grossen Garten, Dresden, May 2006§
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 00289 477 6297 [59:30]

 

"Anna Netrebko & Friends – A Dream Team for Mozart in 2006" says the heading for Nick Kimberley’s liner-notes. For once the hype is relatively modest: these are indeed some of finest voices now before the public. Most of them are also under exclusive recording contracts with the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon, which also goes a long way to show that the company’s head-hunters have a nose for quality.

"The Mozart Album" is in the main made up of material from two sets of recording sessions: one from Bologna in March 2005 under Abbado and the other from Dresden in May 2006 under Sebastian Weigle. In addition to this DG have thrown in, for good measure, a few titles from already existing issues, the recent complete Zauberflöte under Abbado and Bryn Terfel’s even newer recital Tutto Mozart. While this undoubtedly makes for an even more exciting disc it seems a little unfair to collectors who have already invested in those two productions and feel reluctant to invest – at full price – in duplications. In fine print on the back of the jewel case one can read: "Includes many previews from each artist’s own upcoming 2006 Mozart albums – as well as selections by Anna Netrebko available here only." Time will show what riches are in store within the next few months and for Mozart lovers who feel that one collection of opera excerpts is enough, the present compilation might well be a first choice.

It also goes some way to show the validity of my standpoint, brought forward in several reviews, that the traditional recital format, focusing on one singer, is rarely the best option and that a mixed programme, offers far more variety. Not only are there variations in voice pitch and timbre but also, as here, an opportunity to hear duets and even a trio. A recent recital from Canadian CBC (review) has the same layout and Bryn Terfel’s Tutto Mozart (review) includes a substantial number of duets.

Generally speaking there isn’t a weak number in the whole recital and when it comes to the quality of the voices this is the cream of the present-day roster of international singers, the possible exception being Thomas Quasthoff, a singer I have long admired, whose voice seems to have lost a little of its steadiness, something that he compensates for through his identification with his characters and expressive colouring of his voice. The duet from Don Giovanni, La ci darem la mano (tr. 8) is the individual number that suffers most. Here his tone becomes rather swaying which robs the voice of its seductive quality, so important here. Weigle’s stately tempo is also an inhibiting factor. And talking of tempos, the only other number that I want to question is the almost excessively fast Susanna aria, Deh vieni, non tardar (tr. 1) from Le nozze di Figaro. I may be obsessed with comparing timings but they show at least something: while Magdalena Kožená takes 4:17 for this aria, Miah Persson (review) 4:32 and Isabel Bayrakdarian (review) 4:46, Anna Netrebko sprints through it in 3:32, 25% faster than Bayrakdarian, which is a great difference. I have no complaints about the singing as such and her voice, though more vibrant than any of the others, is beautiful and expressive in the bargain. Susanna undoubtedly emerges as a less vulnerable character, more stressed in a contemporary manner. Let me hasten to add that this objection is marginal and only in relation to the comparisons.

To hear the very best of Anna Netrebko one need go no further than track 5 and Elettra’s aria from Idomeneo, one of Mozart’s most overtly – and inwardly – dramatic arias. Netrebko depicts every facet of the character’s rage and despair, intensely but still with some restraint – the intensity more in the colouring of the voice than in sheer volume. The same formidable personality also inhabits her Donna Anna, a role that requires both biting venom and sad death-urge. She is well partnered by Christoph Strehl, the most mellifluous and stylish of Don Ottavios, not strong of voice to match Netrebko but depicting the meek character of the role – and also a certain dignity. In more lyrical vein, and back to Idomeneo, Netrebko changes outfit and steps into Ilia’s shoes in what is possibly the most often heard aria from this opera, Zeffiretti lusinghieri (track 12). Her creamy voice and fine dynamic shadings make this one of the greatest attractions of the whole disc with some really ravishing pianissimo singing. Her voice matches well with Elīna Garanča’s mezzo-soprano in the Annio – Servilia duet from La clemenza di Tito. Garanča was an excellent Annio on the recent DVD Clemenza (review) from Salzburg under Harnoncourt; weird setting but vocally wonderful. On her own Garanča sings Sesto’s famous Parto, parto from the same opera, another classy performance. Her vibrant and beautiful voice seems to have much power in reserve, making us expect to hear her in tougher parts before long.

I reviewed Bryn Terfel’s recital quite recently and refer readers to the full review. He never disappoints and sings with his customary identification and conviction as Count Almaviva while as Don Alfonso in the Così fan tutte trio he mainly provides the bass line behind the excellently matched Miah Persson and Christine Rice. I have also touched on Thomas Quasthoff and have to express my admiration for his Catalogue aria where he is lighter of voice than most bass-baritones. He is also so expressive with nuances and words, not unlike Giuseppe Taddei on the legendary Giulini recording – only even more detailed. He also adopts a Lieder-like approach to Papageno’s Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja (track 10), stressing the child of nature in the character.

I have saved the extremes of the human voice to the last, both culled from Abbado’s complete Zauberflöte. As the Queen of the Night, Hungarian soprano Erika Miklósa is bright-toned but not acid-sounding as high sopranos can sometimes be. She has a light vibrato that lends fullness and warmth to her singing and she hits the devilishly elusive high notes plumb in the middle. Having sung the part some two hundred times she has gathered experience but there is nothing routine about the performance. The warmth in her timbre rather robs her role of the necessary edge of evil, but I prefer a nice-sounding Queen to an evil-sounding but shrill one. At the other extreme René Pape is a wonderfully secure and sonorous Sarastro. He is no doubt the most talented bass in the traditional German repertoire in the generation after Kurt Moll. His is a leaner sound, more youthful. Maybe he lacks the last ounce of authority and wisdom compared to Moll’s booming sonorities, but he sings with such beauty and superb phrasing as to silence any criticism.

This is, in other words, a collection of golden eggs worth anyone’s money. It must be regretted that DG have omitted texts and translations but at least provide thumbnail resumes of the contents of each number.

Göran Forsling

 



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