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Haydn Isola PTC5186275
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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
L’isola disabitata Hob. XXVIII:9 Azione teatrali in two parts (1779)
Costanza – Anett Fritsch (soprano); Silvia – Sunhae Im (soprano); Gernando – Krystian Adam (tenor); Enrico – André Morsch (baritone)
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/Bernhard Forck
rec. September 2020, Jesus-Christus Kirche, Berlin-Dahelm
Booklet with libretto in Italian with German and English translations.
Notes in German and English.
PENTATONE PTC5186275 [80:55]

L’isola disabitata is Haydn’s twelfth opera, falling in between La vera costanza and La fedeltà premiata. This new release from Pentatone marks my first encounter with this work, and signifies a bit of neglect on my part considering my familiarity with the other operas of Haydn. On hearing this score for the first time the revelation is how completely Haydn displays his mastery of composition and mood painting in this opera. Indeed, in spite of its short duration, Haydn has produced a musical work which in many ways is more developed and nuanced than either of the two aforementioned operas that bookend its composition. It would be a mistake to assume from the “Desert Island” title that this is some sort of baroque buccolic trifle, as is the case with so many other contemporaneous works in this category. Haydn’s supremely developed musical language includes some very masterful accompanied recitatives; an extremely rare occurrence for that time. Nearly half of this opera is accompanied by recitative with orchestral punctuation of the most striking originality, something that would not be attempted again at this level until he came to compose Die Schöpfung in 1797.

The plot is by no less a librettist than Pietro Metastasio, concerns a pair of sisters who have been stranded on a tropical Island for many years. They believe themselves to have been abandoned by their lovers some years before, but when the rogue fellows in question return to the Island, it is revealed that they were actually abducted by pirates and did not abandon their ladies at all. Pretty slim stuff on which to hang such superb music.

It was a most original idea of Pentatone, in combination with Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, to plan a recording of a desert island work during the year of pandemic lockdowns that was 2020. This was recorded in September, so all of the participants would have had many months of self-isolation to endure, which really gives an added emotional veracity to music making herewith. Pentatone’s engineers have furnished a sound space of exemplary clarity and warmth. The renowned Berlin period ensemble is celebrated for the quality of their musicianship and that is exactly what they provide here. The direction of Bernhard Forck is resolute and flawless. He brings sufficient gravitas to give the needed weight to the emotional depth of the accompanied recitatives. Musicians of the Akademie für Alte Musik show once again their pre-eminence among the Period performance orchestras of the world.

The singers are a successful group that are well-suited to their roles. Annett Fritsch as the older, despairing sister Constanze has a voice that combines glowing tone and warmth of expression to suit the sister who bears the greater tonal and emotional range. Silvia, the younger, more naive sister, whose best friend on the island is a deer, is sung by Sunhae Im. This singer was introduced to me in the 2003 Naxos recording of Die Schöpfung by Christoph Spering and the passing years seem to have barely touched her voice. Her tonal quality and agility are still unimpaired and of all the singers she displays the most thought and conviction in her numerous recitatives. Krystian Adam is an ideal Gernando. His vocal lines are delivered with taste and elegance, and his slightly tremulous tone is attractive to hear, and is slightly reminiscent of the sound of the young David Rendall. André Morsch as Enrico has a warm and pliable baritone voice that shows a decent flexibility in the decorated sections.

There has been at least one previous recording of L’isola disabitata, recorded by Antal Dorati and Philips for his Haydn opera series from Lausanne. I have not had the opportunity to hear it so cannot provide a direct comparison. However, based on my familiarity with the rest of that series, I would say that this is likely to be the first choice recording for this surprisingly rich and rewarding opera. I should add that the booklet is thoroughly well produced although there is a rather odd choice of English for a word that should have been translated as “captured” has been saddled with “captivated” in its place.

Mike Parr

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