WORKS: Mermaid and Sailor Songs; Arianna a Naxos
PERFORMER: Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-sop); Melvyn Tan (fortepiano)
CATALOGUE NO: 447 106-2 DDD
One of the most powerful performances of Schubert’s ‘Erlkönig’ I have ever heard was by von Otter and Tan: responses to text and setting flashing from one to the other across the backdrop of a terror-stricken fortepiano. Here, mezzo and fortepianist travel back in time to the songs of Mozart and Haydn, to no less revelatory effect.
The shorter, yet keenly expressive resonance of the fortepiano leaves the voice as prime mover in Mozart’s little salon melodramas. And in the French settings, von Otter’s voice takes on the matt pastel tones of Gustavian taste, very much the francophile Swede in period action.
Haydn’s melodrama stretches to the concert scena Arianna a Naxos, a solo cantata in which the fortepiano does not wake Arianna too harshly from sleep and dream, yet provides a strong zoom lens for her anguished sighting of Teseo’s departing fleet. Haydn’s Mermaid and Sailor songs are favourite party pieces: the glinting waves of the one and the rolling seas of the other call forth from them some audacious and totally stylish ornamental abandon. Hilary Finch