WORKS: Mitridate, re di Ponto
PERFORMER: Mathias Zachariassen, Henriette Bonde-Hansen, Kristina Hammarström, Lisa Larsson, Sine Bundgaard, Maria Fontosh, Anders J Dahlin; Vocal Group Ars Nova; Danish Radio Sinfonietta/Adam Fischer
CATALOGUE NO: 6.220580-82 (hybrid CD/SACD)
This is the sixth CD set of Mitridate, a work also currently available in four DVD versions. Would similar attention be paid to the opera if it were by another 18th-century composer, and not an astonishingly precocious 14-year-old later to write Idomeneo and La clemenza di Tito? My answer, underpinned by several hearings of this impressive latest recording, is a full-throated ‘yes’.
No one would claim that it’s a work of high inspiration all through – though even when treading opera seria water, Mozart writes with serene beauty for voices and instruments. But the amount of formally adventurous and deeply-felt music it does contain makes nonsense of Edward J Dent’s assertion that the teenage composer ‘was not yet temperamentally equal to the treatment of such a subject’.
The new set possesses notable features: full text with recitatives only lightly pruned, substantial accompanying booklet, excellent modern-instrument orchestra, the graceful, versatile and touching Henriette Bonde-Hansen as prima donna, and – greatest strength of all – the conductor Adam Fischer, admired for his Haydn symphony recordings and here a Mozartian of rhythmic incisiveness, lyrical warmth and a powerful sense of formal shape and balance.
What it lacks, however, are the brilliant vocal virtuosos for which Mozart’s ferociously difficult leading roles, almost all high-pitched, were written. In this respect Decca’s ten-year-old period-instrument Mitridate – less cleanly recorded, and by Christophe Rousset less muscularly conducted (and now not available on CD but only as a download) – proves largely superior, above all in its ‘leading man’ performance by Cecilia Bartoli at her incomparable best, and in stellar accounts of lesser roles by Sandrine Piau, Brian Asawa and Juan Diego Flórez. Max Loppert