WORKS: The Abduction from the Seraglio
PERFORMER: Hans-Peter Minetti, Stanford Olsen, Luba Orgonasova, Cyndia Sieden, Uwe Peper, Cornelius Hauptmann; Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 435 857-2 DDD
Like Harnoncourt and Hogwood, Gardiner restores many of the cuts (probably made by Mozart himself) in the very elaborate arias of the composer’s first mature German Singspiel. He also includes the recently discovered March first recorded by Hogwood, but otherwise these rival period-instrument sets have little in common. Hogwood is swift and light in his pacing of the music, and delightful enough in the outer sections of the overture and the comic arias, but Gardiner is altogether more dramatic and expressive. Preference will depend, I suspect, on whether one regards the Seraglio as a comic opera with serious elements, or vice versa.
Gardiner opts for the latter approach, with wonderfully expressive playing in the great emotional numbers – Konstanze’s ‘Traurigkeit’, the sublime duet – and he moves the ‘action’ ensembles – the Act 1 Trio, the great Quartet – with a propulsive theatrical momentum which I find more exhilarating than Hogwood’s version. The two casts are fairly evenly balanced: Hogwood’s Blondchen is more of a charmer than Gardiner’s accurate but brittle Sieden, but Olsen’s Belmonte, velvet-toned like Beecham’s Simoneau, is a superior stylist to his Decca counterpart. Peper is the best Pedrillo since the peerless Gerhard Unger (also Beecham) and Hauptmann’s light lyric bass, only just making his low notes at classical pitch, is a welcome change from the black-voiced Wagnerians who have dominated this role on disc. The clincher, though, is Orgonasova’s fearless Konstanze: ‘Martern aller Arten’ holds no terrors for her, thanks to her fabulous technique and rich-toned soprano. She establishes an unusually erotic rapport with Minetti’s noble yet menacing Pasha, the most complete vocal portrait of the spoken role on disc. Ravishing wind-playing, discreet fortepiano continuo, and superb
choral singing set the seal on an enthralling issue, my top recommendation now in this work.