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CD Review: Mozart Operas and Songs of Laughter, Love and Tears

By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 21 February 2001

Mozart Heroines
Natalie Dessay, soprano
Louis Langrée, conductor; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
VIRGIN 7243 5 45447 2 9 - texts and translations in English, French and German
Arias from Zauberflöte, Lucio Silla, Zaïde, Ascanio in Alba, Entführung aus dem Serail, Idomeneo

natalie dessay : mozart heroines

Natalie Dessay's second disc devoted to Mozart focuses on excerpts from operas, covering a wide range from the expected Queen of the Night to the more lyric effusions of Zaïde or Konstanze. It is clear that the soprano wishes to break out of the mold into which she has been cast, while at the same time not repudiating her ancestry. Arias from Lucio Silla or Ascanio in Alba show that she is still able to embark on death-defying coloratura, while now able to meet the very different requirements of such roles as Ilia or Pamina. Louis Langrée and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment offer ideal support, the winds particularly succulent.

Mozart: Il Sogno di Scipione
Malin Hartelius (Costanza); Lisa Larsson (Fortuna); Christine Brandes (Licenza)
Bruce Ford (Scipione); Charles Workman (Publio); Jeremy Ovenden (Emilio)
Gottfried von der Goltz, conductor
Freiburger Barockorchester
ASTREE E 8813 (2 cds) - texts and translations in English, French and German

Mozart: Il Sogno di Scipione

Mozart's adolescent works have not always fared well on disc, particularly under the leaden baton of Leopold Hager in the Philips complete edition. Gottfried von der Goltz and the Freiburger Barockorchester demonstrate the enormous musicological progress since those earlier recordings, with a much lighter and brisker approach. Malin Hartelius and Lisa Larsson may not be in the same category as Lucia Popp and Edita Gruberova, but are nonetheless more than capable of singing some difficult music. Christine Brandes does better in her one aria to close the work, but all three sopranos offer a bright, shallow tone. The tenors do better, especially Bruce Ford in the title role, and Charles Workman's bleat is slightly less in evidence than on other occasions.

Mozart: Die Hochzeit des Figaro
Helena Braun (Countess); Irma Beilke (Susanna); Gerda Sommerschuh (Cherubino); Hans Hotter (Count); Erich Kunz (Figaro); Res Fischer
Josef Witt, Gustav Neidlinger, William Wernigk, Franz Normann, Liane Timm;
Clemens Krauss, conductor;
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra,
Vienna Staatsoper Chorus
MUSIC & ARTS CD 1052 (3 cds) - notes by Alan Blyth in English only

Once again Music & Arts offers us a recording of limited interest, a live performance from the Salzburg Festival in August 1942. Yes, the conducting of Clemens Krauss is in the "modern" mold, but why should we be listening today to a performance sung in German translation, where the women are not really up to the demands of the music. The only point of interest is the Count of Hans Hotter, a portrayal new to disc. There are some bonus tracks of concerts featuring Mengelberg, Krauss, and Ernest Ansermet (what was he doing in Nazi territory in 1942?).

Nmon Ford: The Sweetest Brilliance - Songs of Bolcom and Weinstein Nmon Ford, baritone; Victoria Kirsch, piano
THREE THINGS TT2301-2 - texts in English only

Nmon Ford: Songs of Bolcom amd Weinstein

There is a huge terrain between classical song (lied, mélodie) and popular song, one which has been investigated-usually with success-by such composers as Arnold Schönberg and Kurt Weill (the latter with Bertolt Brecht) in what are also known as Brettl-lieder, Benjamin Britten with W.H. Auden and now William Bolcom with Arnold Weinstein. These songs were mostly written for Joan Morris (Ms. Bolcom), but Nmon Ford gives them a different twist. Weinstein's texts lose none of their mordancy in Ford's interpretation, while at the same time the warm-voiced baritone is able to modulate between the various vocal modes required by Bolcom. My only complaint is that with less than 37 minutes of music, you might feel short-changed, but give it a preliminary listen in your local store and you will be captivated. This recording is also available at www.nmonford.com.

John Biggs: Songs of Laughter, Love and Tears.
Ernest Gold: Songs of Love and Parting.
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Coplas. Jonathan Mack, tenor;
David Amos, conductor
Crystal Chamber Orchestra (Biggs)
Marni Nixon, soprano
Ernest Gold, conductor
Vienna Volksoper Orchestra
CRYSTAL CD 501 - texts and notes in English only.

John Biggs and Ernest Gold

A disc of many contrasts, ranging from the pseudo-Britten of John Biggs, an impression heightened by the well-schooled tenor voice of Jonathan Mack, to the highly individual Coplas of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco in his own orchestration. Ernest Gold may be best known for his film scores (Exodus, among others), but he has put together an interesting group for Marni Nixon in which two settings of Emily Dickinson particularly stand out. The Biggs was recorded in 1992, while the remainder of the disc dates from 1974.

Related Operanet Articles: An Interview with Natalie Dessay

Ressources Operanet: Une Interview avec Natalie Dessay

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