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Mozart cosi PACO189

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Così fan tutte
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano) Fiordiligi; Nan Merriman (mezzo) Dorabella; Lisa Otto (soprano) Despina; Léopold Simoneau (tenor) Ferrando; Rolando Panerai (baritone) Guglielmo; Sesto Bruscantini (baritone) Don Alfonso
Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
rec. 13-17, 19-21 July & 6 November 1954, Kingsway Hall & EMI Studio No. 1, Abbey Road, London
Ambient Stereo
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO189 [3 CDs: 160:33]

I have long loved this recording and in my survey of Così fan tutte posted in July 2018 nominated it as my first choice in the historical mono category but I had never fully registered how relatively poor its sound was until hearing this new XR remastering into Ambient Stereo by Pristine; the transformation is really striking. For example, in the famous trio “Soave sia il vento”, the line of the elegant baritone Sesto Bruscantini is at times inaudible, whereas in this new incarnation, apart from the depth and space of the sonic ambience in general, all sorts of detail now emerge clearly; in my Naxos 2006 issue, good as it is, everything now seems so much more distant and obscured.

The performance itself is now revealed in new glory – but also any little flaws, such as the rather rapid, almost twittery, vibrato of both leading ladies, are now more apparent. Some would perhaps prefer a heftier, more avuncular Don Alfonso than Bruscantini’s light, lean tone can offer but he is such a master of comic timing and verbal inflection that any such doubts are soon discarded. I quote here my assessment as per the aforementioned survey, as my opinion is unchanged:

“I have lived for years with the Böhm recording as my favourite Così fan tutte, always with a sideways longing glance towards the neglected Lombard set on Erato, but the latter really is too languorous at times. That might be what you would expect of Karajan, too, but you would be wrong. He starts in sprightly manner and so it continues: never rushed but taut and beautifully pointed, whereas Böhm can sometimes lack subtlety. At first, one wonders whether some of the singing and playing might be a little understated; everything is so subtly and delicately underscored without any hint of vulgarity - and of course, the orchestral playing is of the highest quality, the Philharmonia of this period comprising some of the greatest wind players of their era, including Denis Brain on horn. If you like your Mozart on period instruments rattled off at breakneck speed, this recording is not for you, but I must emphasise that there is no lack of pace or tension in this performance. All the soloists have exceptionally fleet, light, sweet voices with that old-fashioned, quick, flickering vibrato now out of fashion and they are masters of the text. Bruscantini is much lighter of voice than the Don Alfonsos to which we have become accustomed today and his characterisation is beautifully shaded, cynical yet affectionate. I am not always fond of Schwarzkopf, but here she is in freshest, purest voice, largely free of mannerisms and even better than ten years later with Böhm. Merriman is a perfect foil, with her warm, vibrant mezzo, and Simoneau is simply the best Ferrando on record. Panerai provides wonderful support, and even though I still marginally prefer the perfect Steffek as Despina in the later set, Otto is pert, pretty and funny. Recitatives are cut but otherwise only the standard two numbers (Nos.7 and 24) are missing from the complete score.

The mono sound on EMI is clean and forward without distortion. However, the alternative Naxos issue is even cheaper than this "Great Recordings of the Century" version, nor can I cannot imagine that the EMI is any better re-mastered - and you have a bonus selection of Schwarzkopf arias to boot.”

Obviously my recommendation of the Naxos set is now superseded by this splendid new Pristine issue.

Ralph Moore

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