Mozart: Thamos, King of Egypt

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Archiv
WORKS: Thamos, King of Egypt
PERFORMER: Alastair Miles (bass); Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 437 556-2 DDD
I always used to think that the Harnoncourt recording of this incidental music was uniquely perfect, but this new recording is equally marvellous. Harnoncourt used modern instruments with significant alterations (ie gut strings) while Gardiner’s is a period orchestra. But what makes this new record invaluable is that it contains two choruses which I had never heard before and which, I believe, are first recordings: the original versions of Nos. 1 and 6.

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The booklet writer has made a total hash of the versions of the work, which he thinks are only two, 1776 and c.1779-80. Of the performances of Thamos at Pressburg (Bratislava) and Esterháza in 1773 he says ‘it was evidently performed with music – but the music was not by Mozart’. In fact on 13 December 1773, two days after the first performance in Pressburg, the play’s author, Tobias Philipp, Freiherr von Gebler, wrote from Vienna to a writer and colleague in Berlin: ‘I enclose the music for Thamos […] as set not long ago by a certain Sigr. Mozzart [sic]. It is his own original score, and the first chorus very fine.’

This CD contains the whole music of the 1776 version (two numbers of which originated in 1773), including the first recordings of the two choruses, plus three revised numbers for the 1779-80 version – all for Salzburg. The role of the high priest is magnificently sung by Alastair Miles, and Gardiner neatly avoids some of the exaggerated accents of the previous Harnoncourt recording.

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A triumph for all concerned and if you don’t know this part-sinister, part-glorious music, hasten to purchase this CD – it will change your life. HC Robbins Landon