Mozart: Idomeneo

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Idomeneo
PERFORMER: Ian Bostridge, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Lisa Milne, Barbara Frittoli, Anthony Rolfe Johnson; Dunedin Consort, Edinburgh Festival Chorus, Scottish CO/Charles Mackerras
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 5 57260 2
Thanks to Mozart’s voluminous correspondence on the subject with his father, we know more about the genesis of Idomeneo than about any of his other operatic masterpieces. The immensely long third act, in particular, posed considerable problems, and right up to the last moment – and probably during the run itself – Mozart was altering the score, ruthlessly cutting it in order to propel the action forwards. Gardiner’s 1990 recording includes alternative versions of several numbers as appendices, but Mackerras has opted firmly for Mozart’s unfettered inspirations, before practical considerations forced him to make abridgements.

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The new recording has much to recommend it – not least Mackerras’s unfailingly stylish and sympathetic conducting, and the fine playing of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. However, the closely positioned voices have acquired a hard edge that makes uncomfortable listening. Good though Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s Idamante is, her voice is no match for the greater warmth and dramatic range of Anne Sofie von Otter on Gardiner’s version; and although Ian Bostridge sings quite beautifully throughout, his Idomeneo sounds light and youthful when set beside the more authoritative tones of Anthony Rolfe Johnson (who on the new recording takes on the rather ungrateful role of the King’s confidant, Arbace). Lisa Milne is an affecting Ilia, and Barbara Frittoli vividly conveys Electra’s impotent fury; but ultimately the greater impact of the orchestral playing on the DG Archiv set – not to mention the superiority of the Monteverdi Choir over the rough-and-ready Edinburgh Festival Chorus – makes for a considerably more dramatic experience. Misha Donat