WORKS: Opera and concert arias
PERFORMER: Sylvia McNair (soprano), Leila Josefowicz (violin), Alfred Brendel (piano); Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner
CATALOGUE NO: 446 712-2
Sylvia McNair’s ‘selection of the most tender moments from Mozart’s operas and concert arias’ sets the precedent for this month’s multiple offering of somewhat anaemic bleeding chunks. McNair’s soft-focus soprano, which seems to delight in the coy use of only part of an already small voice, gives languid Mozart performances in enervating tempi and with only pedestrian orchestral accompaniment. Pleasant soporific mood music, maybe; but bring it up to the foreground and you may well find ‘Porgi amor’, for instance, almost impossible to listen to.
Kathleen Battle’s ‘Porgi amor’ and ‘Ach, ich fühl’s’ are almost as slow and indulgent as McNair’s. But this similarly small voice, of a particular and limited beauty, has overtones and undertones which at least sustain the music’s momentum more effectively. Battle also has better German, and is served marginally better by the Met orchestra. An all-pervasive pearly-toned pathos is relieved by lively performances such as Blonde’s ‘Welche Wonne, welche Lust’, and Despina’s ‘Una donna a quindici anni’.
Anne Sofie von Otter knows there is far more to even the most seductive Mozart than coy, lowered eyelids and the musical equivalent. Her latest disc focuses not only on her own trouser roles in Mozart, Haydn and Gluck, but also on those she has watched from the wings but is unlikely ever to take on. So we are treated to a fervent ‘Non più di fiori’ (Vitellia in Tito) and to the grave beauty of Alceste’s ‘Non vi turbate’, among many spirited and searching performances with orchestral playing to match.
Finally, Kiri Te Kanawa turns to the Austro-German heavyweights with some fragile but beautifully phrased Wagner and, in Daphne’s Transformation, some evergreen Strauss.