Review: Mozart Arias (EMI)
My first and enduring memory of Edda Moser was as Donna Anna in Joseph Losey’s film of Don Giovanni. With a cast including Ruggiero Raimondi, Teresa Berganza, Kiri Te Kanawa and José van Dam and conducted by Lorin Maazel, it’s a film – or is it a production? – which I regularly return to.
As part of a strong ensemble, Edda Moser was a perfect Donna Anna. Not only did she perfectly capture the hysteria of the character but she married it with an innately informed and musical approach alongside her colleagues.
In today’s marketing-led world of classical music, Edda Moser would not be characterised as having a ‘beautiful’ voice – where ‘beautiful’ is often simply a synonym for bland and uninteresting. But what this reissue of her recital of Mozart arias demonstrates is that ultimately Moser is an accomplished, flexible and talented artist who literally breathes life into every character she portrays on the CD. I would hazard a guess that not many of today’s artists would be as capable of this level of musicianship and interpretation.
Additionally her diction is superlative. Indeed I understand that as well as being a professor of singing at Cologne’s Hochschule für Musik, she is the founder of the annual Festspiel der Deutschen Sprache, championing the use of proper German over ‘Denglish’. Enough said.
And while her voice may not be ‘beautiful’ to those brainwashed by today’s sleeve-note marketeers, it has a beauty, individuality and real sense of musicianship which should be the envy of many of today’s singers – a unique and distinct timbre, even and precise throughout her entire range with exacting and incredible vocal control even in the most challenging moments of coloratura.
Edda Moser is a confident singer, completely assured and hers is a voice that makes you sit up and not listen so much as demand that you pay absolute attention. This is not a CD to drive to or have on as background music. It must be listened to with no distractions.
The recital disc covers original recordings made between 1971 and 1976 just a few years after Ms Moser made her 1968 debut. Conductors Leopold Hager, Eugene Jochum, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt and Peter Scheider provide able support through a selection of arias from Die Zauberflöte, Idomeneo, Don Giovanni (of course), La clemenza di Tito as well as a few both concert and religious arias.
Throughout Moser conveys a real sense of each character she portrays coupled with perfect diction and intelligent interpretation. From Die Zauberflöte she sings to the two arias for the Königin der Nacht, interestingly in reverse order – and clearly to give the disc an impressive ‘opening number’. And it works. In Der Hölle Rache not only is there real fury and fire in the delivery the text but she delivers the demanding coloratura – and the famous high f’s – with pinpoint accuracy, exuding the very confidence and assurance I’ve already mentioned. Just listen to her final phrase – Hört, Rachegötter, Hört der Mutter Schwur! – delivered with utter conviction. In Oh Zittre Nicht, mein Lieber Sohn! … Zum Leiden bin ich auserkoren, Moser adopts a more lyrical tone as befits the aria but with careful attention to detail to the words in the accompagnato and the opening of the aria itself. But again the faster second section holds no difficulties as she once again throws out confident and machine-gun accurate coloratura including a top f which with so many other singers sounds pinched.
Staying with the singspiel theme, next is Marten aller arten. I love this aria but more for it’s passages of coloratura and four delicately balanced concertante instruments that for it’s dramatic potential. Only a precocious adolescent genius would stop the drama at the precise moment when it reaches a critical dénouement, cock a finger at the audience and make them sit there for almost ten minutes. Granted, through a marvellous, beautifully crafted and inventive aria but lessening the emotional and dramatic impact. Compared to Zaide’s Tiger! wetze nur die Klauen, Martern aller arten does what Mozart intended it to say on the tin of the opera – show of Signora Cavallieri’s talent. But this isn’t to complain. And while some people might prefer a greater sense of urgency in the tempo of this aria, Moser’s performance is incredibly accomplished, working with the concertante soloists and with a purity of tone and legato throughout. A more measured tempo not only allows her to negotiate the florid passages with note-perfect ease but actually allows them to breathe and in reality adding dramatic impetus. This is almost the best performance on the disc.
Crudele! … Non mi dir, bell’idol mio is the only aria Ms Moser performs from Don Giovanni and it immediately transported me back to Losey’s film. Her burnished dramatic soprano comes into it’s own and – perhaps because of the association with the film – this is the finest performance on the disc. From the opening Crudele, Moser inhabits the character of Donna Anna sliding through the demanding tessitura and the sweeping arc of the vocal line with faultless technique. More often than not for the audience and the soprano simply the accompagnato as a means to the aria. Not so Ms Moser. Here the emotional emphasis is equally distributed with a smooth legato vocal line and beautifully crafted phrases and embellishments clearly articulated in the opening section of the aria. In the ensuing allegro this is combined with note perfect coloratura which Moser delivers as part of – and not separate to – the overall emotional context. Wonderful.
From Hispanic victim to vengeful Greek for Elettra’s Tutte nel cor vi sento from Idomeneo. And before I proceed, one minor gripe. That EMI cut the aria stone dead by not including the subsequent choral entry. Despite a strong performance it leaves the track somewhat incomplete. Yet Ms Moser is in her element here and I wish I could have seen her Elettra on stage. Here – and in the subsequent aria for the character, Oh Smania! Oh Furie! – D’Oreste e d’Aiace – Moser brilliantly captures a princess full of hatred and a desire for revenge with the broken, hesitant phrases and she accents the appoggiaturas skillfully without ever cutting the notes short or snatching at them. In Elettra’s final aria, Moser raises the emotional temperature without ever sacrificing the Mozart’s lyricism. Although towards to end – and the only moment on the disc – Moser comes close to intonation troubles. Almost but not quite.
Sandwiched between these two arias, and at least chronologically correct unlike Die Zauberflöte at the top of the disc, is Elettra’s Idol mio, se ritroso. In comparison to the character’s other arias in Idomeneo I always feel that this aria is somewhat of a cipher> It lacks the heart-on-sleeve emotion of either of the other two and doesn’t attaining their emotional level. Perhaps because of this, Ms Moser’s performance seems somewhat muted.
From La Clemenza di Tito Moser performs the marvelous Ecco il punto … Non piu di fiori. Following an impassioned accompagnato, the aria launches into one of the stateliest tempos I have heard. With a great control, Moser sails purposefully through the vocal line, ably abetted by a mellifluous clarinet obbligato. And in terms of attention to diction, just listen to her delivery of Stretta fra barbare aspre ritorte, veggo la morte ver me avanzar.
The remainder of the disc is given over to two concert arias and excerpts from Mozart’s sacred music including the Agnus Dei in ensemble with Julia Hamari, Nicolai Gedda and Dietrich–Dieskau. All are beautifully performed but the single most pleasant surprise of the entire disc is Moser’s performance of the incredibly challenging Popoli di Tessaglia … Io non chiedo written for Aloysia Weber, for whom Mozart wrote some of his most demanding concert arias. An aria more commonly associated with Rita Streich, Edita Gruberova, Natalie Dessay and Cyndia Sieden, I was intrigued to hear Edda Moser.
This is not an aria to shrink from and Moser confronts it head on, delivering a performance of innate musicality and verve with intense control of her voice. As with the other examples on the disc, Moser gives equal weight to the opening accompagnato with attention to both the words and the vocal line. It’s interesting to note that the conductor on this occasion is Leopold Hager, who would later return to this aria with Gruberova. His handling of the delicate and filigree orchestral accompaniment with its oboe and bassoon obbligati is wonderfully detailed and Moser rises to and surpasses the challenge, spinning a rich yet even tone throughout her register. Indeed the richness of her tone surpasses many other performances of this aria.
And with a sense of ease that is remarkable she hits each and every g’ that Mozart fiendishly wrote. And indeed she sails to the note and holds it. No snatching from Ms Moser. Indeed, listening to her effortlessly fling out the coloratura, without a doubt Moser combines vocal security with innate musicianship that tips this performance of Popoli di Tessaglia well above those of other singers.
Brava Signora Moser! A masterclass in Mozart and a pleasure for repeated listening.