Mozart’s Women – Part Two

In Classical Music, Mozart, Opera, Review on April 22, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Review – Mozart Arias (Marina Rebekah, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Speranza Scapucci)

To listen to this Mozart recital disc immediately after that of Ms Gauvin is to enter a different world of sound and interpretation.

Marina Rebeka is a new name for me but judging from social media her star seems to be in the ascendant. It seems that she is not destined for the UK until February 2015 so before then I must try and see her in Europe. I see she is singing Mathilde in Guillaume Tell in Munich and based on this disc, I am inclined to make the trip to see her live on stage.

If Ms Gauvin’s recital was elegantly authentic, there is something ‘solid’ about this debut disc. But solidity in the reassuring and positive sense – this is definitely a ‘calling card’ of a recital disc, as Ms Rebeka literally works her way through Mozart’s heroines and anti-heroines.

It’s clear that from the outset that while this soprano still has a way to go in terms of individual characterization, vocally she has an impressive instrument – full-throated, bold but with a good degree of dynamic control and, when controlled, a thrilling top. And this voice married to strong technique and intelligent interpretation.

From Idomeneo she gives us Electra’s arias and immediately sets out the ambition of this recital disc. I would have preferred a little more ‘fury’ in O smania! O furie! but she sings D’Oreste, d’Aiace ho in seno I tormenti with a real expansiveness. And in Estinto è Idomeneo? Tutte nel cor vi sento the closing chorus – albeit a luxury – would have assisted in giving this track greater impact.

Staying with the anti-heroines her performances of Der Hölle Rache and O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn … Zum Leiden bin ich auserkoren clearly demonstrate that she has the notes if not the dramatic intent and it then feels rather dislocated somewhat to hear her sing Pamina’s Ah, Ich fühl’s. Compared to Ms Gauvin’s ‘chaster’ Pamina, I think that Ms Rebeka’s more robust daughter might have a “lived a little” and it is one of the most compelling performances in this recital.

She also gives us the key arias from Mozart’s earlier Singspiel. In Marten Aller Arten Mozart dispensed with any semblance of emotional depth and parked his coloratura tanks on the lawn of Eighteen Century Vienna. And here Ms Rebeka attacks the music with relish accompanied with similar glee by her concertante counterparts. The vocal line is controlled with the coloratura pinpoint accurate. A thrilling ride of a performance.

And it’s good to hear Kostanze’s Traurigkeit ward mir zum Lose with the accompanying recitative, especially when played with such eloquence as it is here. And the ensuing aria, taken at a faster than usual lilt, conveys a sense that this is a role that Ms Rebekah is very comfortable with.

The rest of the recital is made up – rather generously – of the heroines from Mozart’s Da Ponte operas. But as a result, characterization is thin on the ground but there is some more thrilling singing.

Of the arias performed, Crudele? Ah no, mio bene! … Non mi dir, bell’idol mio again provides a vehicle to showcase the singer’s full-bodied – but well-clad technically speaking – soprano. And as a result – vocally speaking – this is the highlight of the disc while she shows enviable breath control in Elvira’s Mi tradì quell’alma ingrate.

As the Countess she delivers Porgi, amor more than elegantly – listen to the sotto voce of her opening phrase for example – and that elegance returns for Dove sono even if again, the tempo is slightly faster than I expected in the opening section.

From Così comes the war horse for any recital disc, Temerari … Come scoglio and this singer delivers it with some gusto. She flings the coloratura passages out with confidence and in this aria at least her trills are spot on.

But the real surprise for me in this recording was the playing of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Signora Scapucci. And surprising in a good way as considering the ‘glorious noise’ they make in Shostakovich under Petrenko – and definitely worth investigating if you haven’t already – here they play with a sensitivity, grace and sense of style that puts some other British orchestras to shame when it comes to Mozart.

As with Ms Gauvin, I heartily recommend this debut disc. Ms Rebeka might have been over-ambitious in terms of the number of characters she portrays but her commitment and thrilling singing is never in doubt.

Mozart’s Women – Part One

In Classical Music, Mozart, Opera, Review on April 20, 2014 at 10:53 am

Review – Mozart Opera & Concert Arias (Karina Gauvin, Les Violons Due Roy, Bernard Labadie)

Over the last few weeks I have been throrougly enjoying two recital discs from opposite ends of the performance spectrum but both highly recommended.

The first is by Karina Gauvin, perhaps better known – to me at least – as a consummate Handelian so hearing her Mozart was – except for a random recording of Exsultate Jubilate – an almost new experience.

However, having seen her live as well as possessing both her recital and complete opera recordings, I did notice that while the technique definitely hasn’t diminished, her vocal tone – particularly in the upper part of her range – has narrowed. Yet while it might not have the robust quality of her Porpora recital for example there is a gleam to her singing that has fortunately replaced the ‘matronly’ tone of her Cleopatra in Curtis’ recording of Giulio Cesare.

And it certainly doesn’t detract from the quality of either her performance or musicianship.

Ms Gauvin is an elegant Mozartian.

Her opening aria, Aer tranquillo from Il Re Pastore is stylishly delivered, and beautifully articulated. And naturally the she cuts through the coloratura with ease.

On the strength of her Giunse al fin il momento … Deh vieni, non tardar, I would take her Countess over that of Ms Kermes any day. There is a lightness to the accompagnato with words delivered with laser-like precision that hardly prepares you for the beauty of the aria. She spins out the ensuing aria with a real purity of line, imbuing the vocal line with a beguiling sense of simplicity.

To this day, the entry of the piano obbligato in Ch’io mi scordi di te? Non temer amato bene still manages to catch me by surprise. So it’s a shame that as elegantly as it is played on this disc, I can find no trace of the soloist’s name. Perhaps it is Bernard Labadie? Who knows? But here paired with Ms Gauvin – even if the pace of the aria is somewhat sedate – I have to say that this is one of the best performances of this aria I have heard in a long time. A real gem.

It is in the second concert aria, Misera, dove son! Ah, non son io che parlo, where Ms Gauvin sounds particularly exposed but again her musical intelligence wins through with some elegant phrasing and dynamic control.

But if I had to choose one aria from this recital disc for my desert island, it would be her performance of Ach! Ich fühl’s from Die Zauberflöte. Wondrously controlled and beautifully sung, Ms Gauvin molds the winding vocal line, making her closing phrase – hanging in the air almost – one of incredible emotion.

Of her selections from Così fan tutte and La Clemenza di Tito, I have to admit that her Despina – with it’s coquettishness – won me over more than her Fiordiligi and the sluggishness of Vitellia’s Non più di fiori was the only disappointing vocal track of the recital.

Throughout the recital Ms Gauvin is well supported by Les Violons Du Roy under Labadie, but considering the fire and spirit of other authentic ensembles I did wish for a bit more verve, particularly in the overtures included.

But it’s a pleasure to hear Ms Gauvin back on top form. And I hope to hear her in more Mozart in the future.

My Bach Pilgrimage – What A Difference …

In Bach Pilgrimage, Baroque, Classical Music, JS Bach on April 13, 2014 at 11:01 am

Nach Dir, Herr, Verlanget Mich (BWV 150)
Christ lag in Todesbanden (BWV 4)
Gott ist mein König (BWV 71)
Lobe Den Herrn, Meine Seele (BWV 143)

A year or so makes. After the emotional intensity of the cantatas written in Mulhausen we have a cantatas written in 1708 that seem to take a huge leap forward.

I have to admit that these cantatas as a whole didn’t grab me as much as those from 1707. Personally they didn’t have the emotional impact or scale – despite larger forces – of the cantatas of the previous year but there is a sense of experimentation.

It’s worth noting that these were the first orchestral works Bach wrote. The concerti that we all love came later and that there remains some debate as to the actual date of some of these early cantatas. Both Nach Dir, Herr, Verlanget Mich (BWV 150) and Christ lag in Todesbanden (BWV 4) have variously been listed as being written between 1703 and 1707, but after some research I have placed them in 1708.

Following a short sinfonia, the chromaticism of the opening bipartite chorus of Nach Dir, Herr, Verlanget Mich captures the mood of the text beautifully, especially the focus on ‘zuschanden’. And listen for the rising scale from bass to soprano in the second chorus, Leite Mich In Deiner Wahrheit.

Indeed it is the choruses in this cantata that truly stand out. And as John Elliott Gardiner points out in his brilliant book, Music In The Castle of Heaven, dance was seminal to Bach’s music and here the final chorus is a finely crafted ciacona.

Written for Easter, again Christ lag in Todesbanden opens with a short sinfonia before launching into the first chorus – a choral in the sopranos, the alto, tenor and bass lines weave around almost Italianate string writing in well-crafted counterpoint, concluding with an impressive Hallelujah ending.

A chorus definitely to get the congregation’s attention. Indeed the entire cantata is for chorus – no soloists required – but Bach deploys the forces smartly.

The second chorus, Den Tod niemand zwingen kunnt (Death no one could subdue) scales the orchestra right back to continuo and a seductively woven vocal line above, contrasted with the vigorous string writing for the tenor chorus, Jesus Christus, Gottes sohn that follows and made even more famous by the over-orchestrated and ponderous arrangement by Stokowski.

But it is the chorus in the middle of the cantata that is most notable. Unaccompanied, Es war ein wunderlicher Krieg is in effect a motet – a furious one – with the chorale in the alto.

The final two cantatas of this period – Gott ist mein König (BWV 71) and Lobe Den Herrn, Meine Seele (BWV 143) – use an orchestra that I would imagine that most audiences most associated with Bach – woodwind, brass – in this case horns – and timpani.

BWV 143, Lobe Den Herrn, Meine Seele opens with a suitably exultant chorus, but its brevity demonstrates that perhaps Bach still wasn’t completely confident in terms of the large-scale choral opening movements of his later cantatas. Of the arias, it’s the tenor arias Tausendfaches Unglück, Schrecken (A Thousand misfortunes) and Jesu, Retter Deiner Herde (Jesus, Deliverer of your flock)where you hear for the first time the inventiveness that Bach would achieve in later works, especially his Passions. In the former, a delicate obbligato, in the second a distinctive bassoon continuo and the strings delivering the chorale.

As with the opening chorus, the final Hallelujah is more interesting for the hope it hold for future choruses than in itself.

Gott ist mein König (BWV 71) is the only cantata that Bach published in his lifetime and written for the annual council elections and therefore a cantata of somewhat impressive scale.

The opening chorus alternates between the necessary pomp and sections that are more reminiscent of an earlier motet style. And indeed this cantata is built on this tension of styles. The third movement is another unaccompanied movement, a fugue entitled ‘quartetto’, sandwiched between a tenor aria featuring an organ obbligato and the chorale delivered by a soprano soloist and an arioso for the bass, Tag Und Nacht Ist Dein, with its scoring for recorders and oboes. But it is the penultimate movement, the chorus Du Wollest Dem Feinde, again featuring recorders and oboes, above a rippling continuo and declamatory chorus that is the most memorable moment in this cantata, and points directly to his later works.

And naturally the cantata ends with a suitably expansive chorus – Das Neue Regiment – heralding the new council. Again alternating grander moments for full orchestra and chorus with motet-style sections, but the last word goes not to the chorus or trumpets but to the recorders.

Almost a musical wink, tt seems that Bach wasn’t quite the curmudgeon the world would like us to believe.

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