BARGAIN OF THE MONTH
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Opera and Concert Arias
La clemenza di Tito (1791):
Deh, per questo istante solo [5:52]
Ecco il punto...Non più di fiori vaghe catene [8:28]
Cosi fan tutte (1790):
Ei parte…Per pietà, ben mio [8:34]
Temerari…Come scoglio [5:40]
Don Giovanni (1787):
Batti, batti, o bel Masetto [3:27]
In quali eccessi…Mi tradì [5:35]
Le nozze di Figaro (1786):
Non so più cosa son [2:34]
Porgi, amor [3:16]
Ch’io mi scordi di te?...Non temer, amato bene, K505 (1786) [9:43]
O temerario Arbace!...Per quel paterno amplesso, K79 [6:01]
Véronique Gens (soprano)
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Ivor Bolton
rec. February/March 1998, Abbey Road Studios, London
VIRGIN CLASSICS 6286332 [59:29]
All collectors have, I think, recorded versions of favourite works to which they remain faithful. When, as a schoolboy, I first encountered Berlioz’ Les Nuits d’été - surely one of the most beautiful of all musical works - sung by Janet Baker and with Barbirolli on the podium, I was hooked. I learned to appreciate Régine Crespin’s reading, but Janet had already stolen my heart, and as far as I was concerned there could never be any rival. Then, some time in 2004, I read a review of a new performance by French soprano Véronique Gens and was encouraged to add it to my collection. Now, though I still revere the earlier performance, when I want to hear the work it is most likely Véronique that I take down from the shelves. Hers is quite a different voice from that of Dame Janet, more brilliant, yet rich and creamy, and just as beautiful on the ear. And of course she is totally at ease in the French language, a severe challenge for all but francophone singers.
Here she is six years or so earlier in a selection of Mozart arias. One notes that the voice had mellowed somewhat in those six years: this voice might not so easily have seduced me in Berlioz. It is a real soprano voice, of course, but there is no Queen of the Night here. On the contrary, one or two mezzo roles - and notes - creep in. Thus her Cherubino (from The Marriage of Figaro) is a passionate and even troubled adolescent, his amorous preoccupations - at a fairly rapid tempo - more tortured than breathlessly impetuous. From the same opera, her Countess is womanly and desirable, touchingly looking back on what once was.
How subtly she characterises the recitative preceding Donna Elvira’s superb Act 2 aria from Don Giovanni, “Mi tradi quell’ alma ingratia”, and how outstandingly well supported she is by the superb Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Ivor Bolton. It is the first clarinet who shines here, but time and again throughout this recital one is struck by the remarkable quality of the solo wind playing, without wanting to take anything away from the superbly stylish unanimity of the strings. And Gens effortlessly negotiates the runs and leaps, at one point encompassing a low D and top B flat in successive bars, having chosen just the right tempo for the music and for her voice. And who could resist her coquettish seduction technique as Zerlina in the same opera (“Batti, batti, o bel Masetto”)? Certainly not I. Her way with the words “baciar, baciar” would be enough for me.
She is equally persuasive in the remaining arias from Cosi fan tutte and La clemenza di Tito, and the programme is completed by two concert arias, of which K505 was in composed in 1786 for the English soprano Nancy Storace. This work features an important piano part written for the composer himself to play, taken on this disc by Melvyn Tan.
Recorded recitals of operatic arias tend to be quite popular, allowing the listener to taste, as it were, the work, without having to sit through the three hours or so necessary to swallow the whole. Lovers of Mozart or Véronique Gens need not hesitate before investing in this one: each of these arias will bring a little joy and light into anybody’s life, one after the other, and all at a laughably modest price. One experiences the operas differently, of course, through extracts such as these. In the theatre one is struck, usually without thinking about it, by Mozart’s almost supernatural skill for characterisation and dramatic pacing. In a succession of arias such as this, it is the composer’s remarkable melodic gift that comes to the fore. One gorgeous tune follows another.
The booklet contains an excellent essay by Adélaïde de Place outlining the context and content of each of the arias recorded, helpful given that texts are not provided. The recording is fine.
A splendid recital of Mozart arias from a magnificent French soprano and a superb English orchestra and conductor.