Mozart: Concert arias

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COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Arte Nova
WORKS: Concert arias
PERFORMER: Hellen Kwon (soprano); Hamburg Camerata/Max Pommer
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 71178 2
Hellen Kwon’s fire-eating Queen of the Night on the Naxos Zauberflöte raised expectations for her new recital of concert arias. Alas, her singing here is at best mediocre, at worst a serious trial. Kwon’s technique, always precarious, is now mercilessly exposed: intonation is too often approximate, tone production uneven, and while her stratospheric top notes are still in place, she can produce some excruciatingly raw sounds just above the stave. The two sadistically taxing arias composed for Aloysia Weber, K416 and K418, are the worst victims here: in both numbers the many sustained top As and B flats invariably had me wincing. And while Kwon gets by in rapid coloratura, she does so by the skin of her teeth. Some of the other arias, including the searchingly chromatic ‘Bella mia fiamma’, K528, come off rather better, Kwon never attempts much in the way of characterisation, and her phrasing is short on elegance and allure. Turn to the likes of Edita Gruberová, Lucia Popp and Kiri Te Kanawa in this repertoire and you will hear singing and interpretation of an altogether different order, with all the authority, technical finish and sheer vocal glamour these inspired showpieces demand. Richard Wigmore

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