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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Cosi fan Tutte (1790) [177:40]
Soile Isokoski (soprano) – Fiordiligi
Monica Groop (mezzo) – Dorabella
Nancy Argenta (soprano) – Despina
Markus Schäfer (tenor) – Ferrando
Per Vollestad (baritone) – Guglielmo
Huub Claessens (baritone) – Don Alfonso
La Petite Bande Orchestra and Chorus/Sigiswald Kuijken
rec. live, Franz Liszt Conservatory, Budapest, Hungary, 7 October 1992
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 93925 [3 CDs: 71:39 + 56:21 + 49:40]

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This fizzing period Così is a welcome reissue in the Brilliant Opera Collection at super-budget price.  It won’t topple any others off their perch, but it’s good to set alongside them, and at this price you can afford to indulge.

The best element of the recording is the playing of La Petite Bande.  A small ensemble, they pare down Mozart’s orchestration to its bare essentials but play with fabulous virtuosity, including the various solos - listen to the obbligato horn in Per pieta, for example.  This lends a predominant sprightliness to their interpretation, a world away from the larger scale symphony orchestras of Karajan or Böhm.  Kuijken’s direction matches this very well.  His view of the score is fresh and exciting and he sheds new light on countless corners of this well loved score: his pointing of the final sextet, to name one example, contains quite a few surprises.  He doesn’t just achieve this through quick tempi, however; at times he is surprisingly leisurely and he knows when to relax, such as in Soave sia il vento.  He could teach his period performance colleagues like Rene Jacobs a thing or two in this regard.  All told the score felt fresh, lively and interesting in their hands with a broad smile spread across it for most of its length.

The singing, however, was somewhat more mixed.  This was recorded live in what was presumably a concert performance with the occasional audience cough intruding.  The concert format carries its problems, however: we get some of the flaws associated with live music (some bad mistiming in the opening trio, for example) but few of the pay-offs of a staging.  There is little sense of the living comedy so important in this piece and the frequent asides in the first act are rattled off without any heed to their dramatic potential.  The voices themselves all sound young and involved.  Soile Isokoski’s Fiordiligi confirms her as the natural heir to such greats as Schwarzkopf and te Kanawa.  Her voice is commanding but pure with a silvery gleam to it, especially in the glorious high notes of her two big arias.  She comes dangerously close to being overwhelmed by the orchestra in Per pieta, however, but that’s probably more the fault of the balance engineers.  Next to her Monica Groop’s Dorabella plays the comedy very successfully: Smanie implacabile comes across as humorous satire rather than a sincere statement, and her landroncello aria is as cheeky as the accompanying clarinet.  Nancy Argenta’s Despina is surprising for the wrong reasons.  She doesn’t seem to get to the heart of what makes this tricky character tick.  Despina’s more serious arias feel sterile, while her fake voices for the doctor and notary are grating and unpleasant.  The men have a similar balance of benefits and detriments.  Huub Claessens fits the role of Don Alfonso very successfully: he seems to be in full control but, refreshingly, he also feels surprisingly young and not the jaded old cynic that we may be used to from other interpretations.  Per Vollestad plays the comedy of Guglielmo’s role very successfully, especially in Donne miei and Non siate ritrosi, though he becomes a bit gruff and unyielding towards the end.  The biggest problem is Markus Schäfer who just doesn’t sound comfortable here.  At the beginning of the performance he sounds relatively lyrical and in control, but he becomes noticeably more strained as the evening draws on.  His Act 2 arias sound nasal and forced, though regrettably the rot sets in with Un aura amorosa, which is too laboured to convey the “breath of love” which Mozart so beautifully writes.  The Petite Bande chorus sing very well, though, especially in the beautiful Act 2 serenade Secondate aurette amichi which has all the breath of love that Un aura amorosa lacked.  Furthermore, the score is given completely complete, and there were a few numbers here which I’d never heard, including a duet for Ferrando and Guglielmo in Act 1 Scene 2 and an extra ensemble in the final scene of Act 2. 

This set won’t displace Böhm, Haitink or Marriner in my affections, then, but the orchestral playing is good enough to win it a place on any shelf.  Furthermore the singing is good in enough places to make it competitive.  More importantly, it just feels right, and that’s important for this piece where mood and atmosphere can have such an impact on the reading.  I might even suggest that, next to the frenzied Jacobs and the rather serious Gardiner, this could come close to being a prime choice for a period version. 
 
Simon Thompson
 


 

 

 

 

 

 


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