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George Frideric HANDEL (1685–1759)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Arias and Overtures
Mari Eriksmoen (soprano)
Stavanger Symphony Orchestra/Jan Willem de Vriend
rec. Stavanger Konserthus, Stavanger, Norway, 10-13 August 2020
Sung texts enclosed but no translations
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview.  Advertised by some dealers as a CD, by others as an SACD

Combining music by Handel and Mozart is a clever idea. Mozart was a great admirer of the older master, and his early operas were written in the Neapolitan opera style that Handel had adopted from his early years in Italy. Towards the end of his life, Mozart also became involved in an interesting musical project in Vienna. Baron Gottfried van Swieten is best remembered today for his collaboration with Haydn on the oratorios The Creation and The Seasons. But he was also a composer in his own right and a mentor of Mozart and Beethoven. In the late 1760s he worked as a diplomat in London, and became immensely fond of Handel’s music. Back in Vienna he founded a society of ancient music – quite original in those days, when almost all the music that was played was newly written – and for the society’s concerts between 1788 and 1791 he commissioned Mozart to arrange and re-orchestrate four works by Handel: Messiah, Acis and Galatea, Alexander’s Feast and Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day. Excerpts from three of these are presented on this disc, together with original works by both composers.

The young Norwegian soprano Mari Eriksmoen, who has rapidly established herself as a leading artist on the international circuit, is already well represented in the CD- and DVD catalogues. She has made her mark as a Mozart singer in operas like Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Blondchen), Le Nozze di Figaro (Susanna) and Così fan tutte (Fiordiligi), but she also has a mixed song recital to her credit. On the present disc she introduces herself as Aspasia in Mozart’s early opera Mitridate. The aria Al destin che la minaccia is a minor masterpiece, and it is amazing how mature and confident the composer was at the tender age of fourteen! The prima donnas expected a healthy dose of coloratura to show off their technique, and Mozart obliged accordingly but achieved something more substantial than merely empty roulades. This is a coherent dramatic aria, and Mari Eriksmoen sings it with obvious relish. Her coloratura is fluent, her tone is bright and beautiful and well-equalised throughout the register. Add to this spirited playing of the Stavanger Symphony, and the recital comes off to a spectacular start. That remark is also valid in the next track, where the orchestra plays equally well in Mozart’s arrangement of the overture from Handel’s Acis and Galatea. His version differs from the original insofar as he replaces the oboes with clarinets, which gives the music a softer edge.

His arrangement of Handel’s Messiah contributed a lot to the popularity of the work on the continent. It is still heard once in a while but in general Handel’s own instrumentation has become universally prevalent nowadays. But, of course, it is interesting to hear Mozart’s hybrid version, especially when the aria How beautiful are the feet is sung so beautifully.

Back to Mozart, we are reminded that his return to the old opera seria tradition, in first Idomeneo and then, at the very end of his life La clemenza di Tito, was decidedly retrograde, and that his audiences may have felt uncomfortable with the ancient stories, but no-one can deny that he blew new life in the old format and created some of his most attractive music. In Idomeneo we are in the time shortly after the Trojan War, and Ilia’s long aria from the beginning of the opera is a touching meditation over her sad fate.

Handel’s Giulio Cesare is one of the great baroque operas; Cleopatra has eight arias and her contribution is certainly one of the most important. The aria Da tempeste from Act III is one of her most expressive, and Mari Eriksmoen is superb in the role, with effortless coloratura, and the Stavanger SO accompany with bouncy and vital playing. The aria from his 1747 oratorio Joshua reminds me of the old recording with Elisabeth Schumann from 1928 –  when she sang it, in German of course, entitled O hätt’ ich Jubals Harf’ – and this was an early reference recording for me. Mari Eriksmoen sings it with the same elegance that Schumann did more than ninety years ago.

An aria from Acis and Galatea in Mozart’s arrangement, sung with youthful freshness, is followed by one of Mozart’s many concert arias. They were written either as arias for recital performances or for inserts in other composers’ works. This particular specimen was composed in 1789, the same year as Così fan tutte, as an insert aria for Cimarosa’s Li due baroni, and is certainly fully comparable with any aria that Mozart wrote for his own operas at the same time. Had they been part of any of his great operas, they would have been just as well-known today as any of his standard arias from Figaro, Don Giovanni or Così.

The next collaboration – and the last on this disc – is the overture from Das Alexander-Fest, as the title is in German. The first part finds both masters in ebullient mood; the second is nobly and elegantly dancing – a somewhat surprising end to an overture; one had expected a more powerful full stop.

The tragic Donna Anna from Don Giovanni comes next in her second act recitative and aria. I would have thought that Mari Eriksmoen was more of a Zerlina or Donna Elvira, but Donna Anna need not be sung by a hochdramatisch soprano, as long as she projects the text convincingly, which Eriksmoen does; she certainly has the measure of the role, and she also has the technical ability to toss off the quite advanced coloratura, whilst a heavier voice easily can go astray there.

Handel composed Teseo in 1712, the year he decided to settle in England. It is not one of his most frequently performed works, but Mari Eriksmoen sang in it at Theater an der Wien some time ago, so she is well inside the role of Agilea. The aria M’adora l’idol mio from the first act is a virtuoso piece, not only for the soprano but also for the solo oboist, who is just as much in focus in his obbligato part. It is a pleasure to hear the instrument and the human voice blend. Full marks for both! The oboe has a solo role also in Pamina’s aria from Die Zauberflöte, but here the virtuosity is laid on the shelf in favour of lyrical warmth. The singing is lovely, and this is possibly the highlight of the whole disc – though competition is keen.

Another relatively early Handel opera is Silla from 1713. It is said to have been performed only once, for whatever reason. The aria Secondate, oh giusti dei, is, however, on a par with most of Handel’s other arias. It is florid and has a lot of “go”! Back to Teseo, we meet Agilea again, now in act four, and her happy mood in the first act has turned into sorrow. A beautiful lamentation, sung with inwardness.

And so, as conclusion to this varied programme, we return to Don Giovanni and Donna Anna. Here, in the first act she is furious over Don Giovanni’s attack on her, and she expresses her wrath with sparkling dramatic tones. A brilliant finale, indeed! No one should regret acquiring this stimulating recital.

Göran Forsling

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Mitridate, re di Ponto, K 87 (K 74a):
1. Al destin che la minaccia [4:58]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685–1759)
Acis und Galatea (arr. Mozart), K 566:
2. Overture [3:33]
Der Messias (arr. Mozart), K 572:
3. Wie lieblich ist der Boten Schritt [2:14]
Idomeneo, K 366:
4. Quando avran fine omai … Padre, germani, addio! … Ecco, Idamante, ahimè [8:16]
Giulio Cesare in Egitto, HWV 17:
5. Da tempeste il legno infranto [6:08]
Joshua, HWV 64:
6.6. O had I Jubal’s Lyre [2:42]
Acis und Galatea (arr. Mozart), K 566:
7. O fühltest du die Qualen … Wie’s Täubchen klagt um den Gemahl [6:07]
8. Alma grande è nobil core, K, K 578 [4:29]
Das Alexander-Fest (arr. Mozart), K 591:
9. Overture [5:53]
Don Giovanni, K 527:
10. Crudele? Troppo mi spiace … Non mi dir [6:01]
Teseo, HWV 9:
11. M’adora l’idol mio [5:57]
Die Zauberflöte, K 620:
12. Ach, ich fühls [3:58]
Silla, HWV 10:
13. Secondate, oh giusti dei [2:24]
Teseo, HWV 9:
14. Amarti si vorrei [4:54]
Don Giovanni, K 527:
15. Or sai chi l’onore [2:49]

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