Mozart: David, König in Jerusalem

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COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Orfeo
WORKS: David, König in Jerusalem
PERFORMER: Sibylla Rubens (soprano), Alison Browner (mezzo-soprano), Christian Elsner, Johannes Chum (tenor), Oliver Widmer (baritone), Franz-Josef Selig (bass), Bruno Ganz (speaker); Bavarian Radio Chorus, Munich Radio Orchestra/Leopold Hager
CATALOGUE NO: C 173 022 H
Mozart created his own pasticcio (Italian for ‘hotchpotch’) by cannibalising the unfinished Mass in C minor for a sacred cantata, Davidde penitente. Here opera director Richard Bletschacher makes a pasticcio of a pasticcio, decking out the Davidde penitente music with a German text and interleaving it with numbers from the König Thamos incidental music, a sprinkling of Mozart concert arias and readings from the Book of Samuel. The upshot is a ‘scenic oratorio’ on the life of King David, with the action recounted (by the gravelly Bruno Ganz) in the biblical texts and reflection and commentary from soloists and chorus.

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Bletschacher’s aim was to ‘bring some of Mozart’s most beautiful works to the consciousness of a wider public’. Fair enough, except that for CD buyers all the music here is readily available in the form Mozart intended. So I don’t quite see the point of this cod oratorio. Inevitably, too, the music, however magnificent, often meshes uncomfortably with character and situation; and one or two of Bletschacher’s decisions make a nonsense of the composer’s originals, as when he divides a two-part aria between different characters, or, ludicrously, creates an independent number from a solo cadenza Mozart inserted into the final chorus of Davidde penitente.

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If you’re still undeterred, Leopold Hager directs his forces reliably, if without any special imagination, while Sibylla Rubens, as the boy David and Bathsheba, and Johannes Chum are the best of a variable bunch of soloists. Orfeo provides full German texts but only a synopsis in English. A minority will doubtless plunge in, perhaps keeping a weather eye open for Haydn’s Jonah and JS Bach’s Last Judgement. Others will stick with Marriner (Philips) for Davidde penitente and Gardiner (DG Archiv) for König Thamos. Richard Wigmore