Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Davide Penitente, Oratorio/Cantata K469 (1786)
Adagio and Fugue in C minor for Strings K546
Christiane Karg (soprano); Marianne Crebassa (mezzo); Stanislas De Barbeyrac (tenor)
Salzburger Bachchor
Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski
Horses and riders of the Académie équestre de Versailles
Director of Horse Dressage: Bartabas
rec. Felsenreitschule, Salzburg, Mozartwoche, January 2015
Video Director: Andy Sommer
Filmed in HD. Picture Format 1080i 16:9. Sound Formats PCM Stereo, DTS-HD MA 5.1.
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Japanese, Korean
C MAJOR Blu-ray 731704 [66:00 + bonus: 7:00]

This could go down as the most unusual performance of the year as far as Mozart’s music is concerned, even allowing for the diversity and not unusual abuses inflicted on his operas by various directors, not least in Vienna. The picture on the front gives the clue, three riders seated on three magnificent horses with the less obvious view of some of the arcades hewn from the rock in the Felsenreitschule, Vienna. Originally built as a riding school for an equestrian tradition that flourished during the Habsburg Empire, the Felsenreitschule is now the home for some of the Salzburg Festival's opera productions.

In this performance, filmed during the Salzburg Mozarteum Foundation Week in January 2015, Mozart's music is associated with the movement of mounted horses from the Académie équestre de Versailles choreographed by its Director, Bartabas, who appears, cloaked, astride a magnificent stallion in the first two items. Although taking the title from Mozart’s Oratorio Davide (Davidde) Penitente the programme involves other items. The first is The March of the Priests from Die Zauberflöte, K620, (Ch.2) and the second the Masonic Funeral Music, K477, (Ch.3).

For his Davide Penitente Mozart used the music of an earlier uncompleted Mass, adding aria solos (Chs. 6, 9 and 12), a duet for female voices (Ch. 8) and a trio for three singers (Ch. 13) intermingled with the choral parts from the mass. Also added here is the Andante from Symphony in C (K96). The equestrianism is not of the Olympic type, or that sometimes seen in the offerings from the Spanish Riding School during New Year’s Day concerts from Vienna involving Lippizaners performing in the Imperial Hofburg palace. The dressage is choreographed by Bartabas to match the music, much as in classical ballet, rather than to display horse-and-rider skills and near-acrobatics. Bartabas has a bonus solo to the Adagio and Fugue in C minor for Strings K546.

At the end of the day, it is Mozart’s rarely performed music that is the focus. Under Minkowski the composer is properly served except for a couple of mis-co-ordinations that were probably due to the separation of the chorus and musicians in the arcades. The creamy-voiced mezzo Marianne Crebassa sings with warmth and clarity in her solos (Chs.6 and 12) and the trio (Ch.13) and contributes with taste to the duet with soprano Christiane Karg (Ch.8). The tenor, Stanislas De Barbeyrac sings with pleasing open tone and graceful phrasing whilst Christiane Karg sings with clarity and vocal grace in the trio.

If you can listen, as I did, a second time round, to Mozart’s music without concentrating on the graceful elegance of the equestrianism, I also suggest that you take in the five minutes of applause from the enthusiastic audience. This allows you to see the tiers of the audience and the sand-covered stage as well as the arcades in all their glory.

Robert J Farr

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