LABELS: BBC Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Mozart
WORKS: Arias; Symphony No. 38 (Prague)
PERFORMER: Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo-soprano); Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Styriarte Festival, Graz, 2001)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 0820 D
This Mozart concert, straightforwardly filmed, was a highlight of the 2001 Styriarte Festival in Graz. Concerts can make for tedious viewing, particularly if the director attempts through fidgety or arty camerawork to compensate supposedly impatient home viewers for any missing dramatic action. No tedium here, though: the director Brian Large expertly judges the camera movement to respond intelligently and sympathetically to the demands of both film and music.
Bartoli is on marvellous form. Her fabulous gifts as a Mozartian are too widely admired to need underlining; but her command of these somewhat neglected Mozart arias – each one a full-scale operatic characterisation concentrated into a short space – has obviously been informed and enriched by her recent investigations into rare Vivaldi and Gluck opera seria. She ‘stages’ each aria with unrestrained mobility of posture, hands and facial features (some curious eye-rolling moments are echt-Bartoli), and with heightened sensitivity to verbal inflection. Yet all threat of mannerism is removed by the beauty and total conviction of her singing, its astonishing technical freedom over a huge vocal range (an easy top D flies out in the finale of ‘Bella mia fiamma’, itself the highlight of the disc).
Harnoncourt, a performer sometimes pedantically ready to underline the obvious, seems inspired by his singer. For my taste his account of the Prague Symphony lacks lyricism, delicate phrasing and an organic sense of what Misha Donat, in an excellent, long booklet essay, defines as the ‘unerring logic’ of the piece. But superb playing from the Concentus Musicus Wien ensures that exhilaration is not lacking. Max Loppert