Il ritorno di Tobia
Lucy Crowe, Anna Bonitatibus (soprano), Mauro Peter (tenor), Bettina Ranch (alto), Neal Davies (bass); Salzburg Bach Choir/Ivor Bolton
Sony Classical G0100041249999 (Digital Only) 178:32 mins (3 discs)
This earliest of Haydn’s oratorios is very different from his dynamic crowning masterpieces The Creation and The Seasons. Launched in Vienna in 1775, it follows older, Baroque and opera seria conventions: a leisurely succession of recitatives and florid arias with comparatively few choruses. It also suffers from a pedestrian libretto in Italian drawn from the Vulgate, tortuously retelling the curing of Tobit’s blindness by his son Tobias under the influence of the archangel Raphael. Haydn tightened up the score for a revival in 1784, but also added two striking new choruses. This latest recording retains these, but otherwise reverts to the full 1775 original.
Neglected though the work may remain, none of the many arias are content to merely stick to convention and between them cover a gamut of feeling, from storm-and-stress anxiety to joyful fulfilment; there is some delightful obbligato writing for woodwinds, while the bold gestures and contrapuntal ingenuities of the choruses are comparable with Haydn’s late masterpieces. One simply has to accept the work’s somewhat wayward pacing.
This latest recording certainly makes the best case for it. Lucy Crowe is a silvery Raphael, Anna Bonitatibus phrases gracefully as Tobias’s bride Sarah, Bettina Ranch is richly expressive in the many worries of Tobit’s wife Anna, Mauro Peter is an agile, bright Tobias, knocking up a couple of high Ds on the way, and Neal Davies a noble Tobit. Ivor Bolton draws crisp and nuanced playing from the Mozarteum Orchester and tremendous energy from the Salzburg Bach Choir – all vividly recorded.