Sol nascente –Italian coloratura arias Niccolò JOMMELLI (1714-1774)
1. Tu di saper procura [8:10] Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
2. Otemerario Arbace ... Per quel paterno amplesso, KV 79 (73d) [6:32]
3. A Berenice...[2:34]
4. ... Sol nascente (KV 70) [9:09] Tommaso TRAETTA (1729-1779)
5. Io non cerco [9:15]
6. Parto, ma lascio, o Dio [10:01] Giuseppe SARTI (1729-1802)
7. Non ha ragione, ingrato [4:49] Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Mitridate, re di Ponto KV 87:
8. Al destin, che la minaccia [6:66] Niccolò PICCINNI (1728-1800)
9. Furie di donna irata [3:02]
Charlotte Schäfer (soprano)
Neue Düsseldorfer Hofmusik/Michael Preiser
rec. 15–19 July 2014, Robert Schumann-Saal des Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf.
Sung texts with German translations enclosed ARS PRODUKTION ARS38187 SACD [61:01]
It surprises me that the layout people, designers or whatever, still seem to rule the production of serious CDs. Here Ars Produktion issue a disc with no fewer than four world premiere recordings-and none of the other arias are anywhere near standard repertoire. They provide highly informative and interesting liner-notes in German with English translations. We also get the sung texts with German translations but several of them are printed in white against a background of grey or light brown. The track-list on page 3 of the booklet has a white background but the titles of the arias are in pale yellow. Has anyone in the company heard of the word 'legibility? The title of the disc is Sol nascente-“the rising sun”-which speaks of illumination but the layout points in the direction of darkness.
I was in high spirits when I opened the jewel-case, eager to sample the contents, but my heart sank when I tried to read the texts. The track-list was however on the back of the booklet too in very distinct print. To find names like Jommelli, Traetta, Sarti and Piccinni was a treat. These names are mainly remembered from the history books but why are we given only the first name initial and no birth and death years? They can however be found in the liner-notes.
All that sorted out I could sit down and start from the beginning with Jommelli’s L’olimpiade. The orchestra’s intro at once catches the interest. It is well played and excellently recorded. Then Charlotte Schäfer enters, bright-toned but with considerably warm tone. She is nevertheless, technically accomplished with superb coloratura and a trill worth the name. She little grace notes that make the music even more alive.
Jommelli is known to have tried to steer away from the vogue in Neapolitan opera mainly to expose star singers in virtuoso arias. He leaned towards greater concentration on the story and on the ensembles. The aria heard here is still first and foremost a vehicle for Ms Schäfer’s vocal talent but there is no denying that there is substance in the music as well. Time for a renaissance of his operas?
The three Mozart arias are very early works from a teenager, utterly mature but still more of an imitator than an independent personality. His exceptional melodic gift is, even so, apparent. Per quell paterno amplesso is memorable and the long Sol nascente is structurally more advanced and is also a calling card for Ms Schäfer’s virtuoso singing which is effortless and assured. Aspasia’s aria from Mitridate has been recorded a number of times and digging into my collection I found Arleen Augér and Miah Persson on two different complete sets. They are both more mature singers with greater dramatic presence. Both also have larger orchestral forces backing them and in particular Miah Persson at more than a fraction livelier tempo-6:04 against Schäfer’s 6:55-produces more drive. The more lyrical Schäfer is still well up to her more illustrious competitors and brings a freshness all her own.
Traetta takes us back to the history books and again it is interesting to hear music that probably hasn’t been heard at all during the last two hundred years. Charlotte Schäfer’s intonation falters occasionally, notably in track 6.
An aria by Giuseppe Sarti was also included in the disc “Arias for Benucci” with Matthew Rose which I reviewed not long ago. He seems dramatically the peer to his compatriots on the present disc. The aria from Didone abbandanata is almost sensational.
Piccinni is not completely unknown either. Furie di donna irata comes from La Cecchina, better known under its alternative title La buona figliuola. Competition is keen here too: Joan Sutherland from a set titled “The Art of Bel Canto”, recorded when she was at her freshest before her voice thickened and that disfiguring ‘beat’ became prominent. Ms Schäfer’s reading is fully worthy, and those curious about the other rarities should know that the comparisons I have accounted for still don’t diminish the overall appeal of the present disc.
That insensitive and unserviceable layout I grumbled about is certainly a big black mark. Next time, Tobias Becker, designer — and I hope there will be a next time — spend more time on clarity of text and less on sophisticated design.