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5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful operatic album in every way, with a slightly too ambitious track arrangement., 20 Mar 2014
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The selection in Bejun Mehta’s new solo album with Harmonic Mundi contains works from Gluck (Orfeo and Ezio), Traetta (Antigona and Ifigenia in Tauride), Mozart (Ascanio in Alba and Mitridate), JC Bach (Artaserse) and Hasse (Il Trionfo del Clelia). The contents of this album reflect the operatic music of which W.A. Mozart would have known as a teenager.
First the less good news - the title cut — Gluck's Orfeo, proves the only less-than-compelling piece on the disc. I have listened and re-listened to this track many times to decipher the cause, for I have more confidence in Mehta’s singing as most other reviewers put it. Is it because that this particular part of the role doesn't match Mehta’s best tessitura? Why does his scale works here sounds less even than in the rest of the program? The fact that the solo vocal line constantly sings against a less than well-tuned accompaniment (recorders, I gather) provides not insubstantial obstacle to an accurate perception of Mehta’s singing: there is really no pitch problem with Mehta, just that the constant dissonance with that instrument provides great distraction to the ears of the listeners (listen to the opening introduction before Mehta sings: the dissonance and pitch problem of the recorder is already there). These have a more devastating effect on the perception of the entire album than the producer might have realised.
The better news are that the music contains real treasures like the dialogue between Orestes and a chorus of Furies in Traetta's 1763 Ifigenia en Tauride, with Mehta as Oreste. The rarely heard Traetta, who spent part of his career in musically remote St. Petersburg, are really the biggest find here. Here as elsewhere in this album, Mehta’s variety of attack, musical phrasing and precision in dynamics compel admiration. Mehta is dramatically effective and has a beautiful limpid tone in the slower and warmer arias. He also uses the fiorature in the music to good dramatic and musical ends, unlike some of the other up-coming star counter-tenors who employs such mainly for technical shocase.
The rest of the program is also intelligently assembled. Christoph Willibald Gluck, otherwise considered the founder of the Classical style in opera, Johann Adolf Hasse, Johann Christian Bach, are known mostly to operatic specialists. Compared to the flamboyant arias of the late Baroque, the pieces here are less spectacular but more dramatically satisfying. The young Mozart is represented by his early masterpiece Mitridate, rè di Ponto (1770), and the neglected Ascanio in Alba of the following year.
René Jacobs and the Akademie für alte Musik Berlin’s use a fortepiano in one of the Mozart recitatives, which would have been unlikely in 1771, sounds a bit odd, but the performers get the excitement of the music.
Stylistically, the program includes accompanied recitatives, which became a key tool for Johann Christian Bach and Mozart in framing arias. This album contains a bravura da capo aria from the younger Bach's 1760 Artaserse, which offers interesting comparison with Leonardo Vinci’s same aria in his earlier (baroque) Artaserse, which may be heard in the recent release under the baton of Diego Fasolis. Mozart himself is represented by the Act III aria of Farnace in Mitridate, Re di Ponto (1770), one of Mehta's great triumphs in Salzburg and Vienna, and the rarely recorded but fine "Cara, lontano ancora," from the pastorale Ascanio in Alba.
Still five stars, mostly for Bejun Mehta’s singing and the wonderfully assembled programme (if not in the cleverest track order).
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