First of all, I must state first that I was ANXIOUS to write this rave review. Ever since I got these cd's and realized the treause that is to be found in these recordings I just couldn't wait until I'd had the chance to tell everybody else about it... I honestly believe these recordings should be heard by anybody who is interested in this repertoire and music in general, since this are also some of the most perfect pieces of music in the repertoire.
As for the music itself, I am not going to write about. I think it is enough to read my last sentence to realize exactly what I think about it - and it is really just a must. That's composition taken to the highest possible level.
What I do want to write is about the performances.
Arnold Ostman, not the most known figure in the musical world, (not even amongst musicians- I come from Juilliard, and that name is definitely not one everybody knows) has created in the 80's in Mozart the equivalent of what Harnoncourt and Gardiner have done in Bach performance practice, i.e. has totally changed the conecption which was assimilated into everybody's mind regarding notions about how music of that era should sound like.
Trying to create a performance experience which emulates Mozart's period performance practice he changed everything starting from tempos, through ornamentation and of course- the voices themselves.
For us, most people indoctrinated by the post-romantisicm eastablished especially by Herbert von Karajan and the ilks of him, the first initial response will be a shock. The almost imperceptible swift tempos, the small voices etc. are sure to knock over anybody who haven't heard these recordings before. It might create an intial negative response but hang-on there, as the result is so much more gratifying then of hearing a recording of Karajan, Giulini, Furtwangler or any GREAT other conductor from that era- They were obviously incredible musical figures, but in terms of style and total perception of the piece it just doesn't work on the same level, in Mozart of course. (You'd still want to keep your Furtwangler's ninth copy...)
What is so great about Ostman is the freshness of mind with which he walks into every piece. Just like a real iconoclast
it seems as if he has landed from an entire different planet, and is just coming to conduct these pieces and give their debut. I can't give a more sincere and true compliment than that, musically speaking.
The results are the most fresh interpretations up to date of Mozart most important operas which also derive from some of the best vocal performances I have ever heard.
Under Ostman's direction it seems as though all the singers bloom and give their most musical and inspired performances,
holding on under the swiftest tempos in an admirable way. There is no point in pointing out names because it is as in a rule that the performances are just stellar one by one, even though not carrying around sometimes the most famous names.
This is not to say that all of the recordings in this set are equally perfect, and that I agree to all of the interprations and the insights given by Ostman, but you can't disregard the feeling that he knew EXACTLY what he wanted and executed it almost flawlessly. (the one exception might be small part of Cosi, mainly the overture, which was recorded very early in the stages of period instruments playing- therefore not always as perfect as you would have liked to hear it, but the performance as a whole is still the most beautiful Cosi I know.)
As for the packaging itself: The price is a complete steal, (incredible especially if you order it through other sellers, got mine for about 40$). What you DON'T get are the librettos, so you'd HAVE to get them from a different source. Either a different recording you might have, (you just might want one of the standard reference recordings one usually hears about like Giulini's) or you could just buy the librettos through Amazon, would still cost you very little.
Should not be missed by any terms by anybody who cares for music.