This was the first complete Mozart opera I ever bought and it was through this version that I learned to love it; it remains my favourite Mozart opera by virtue of the sheer beauty of the score and the subtle wit which pervades its ostensibly sexist libretto. Böhm's earlier studio recording in excellent stereo is commendable, especially for Lisa della Casa's Fiordiligi and of course Christa Ludwig's first Dorabella, but some of the Italian, apart from della Casa's, obviously, is horribly Germanic and I don't think the men are as elegant; this 1962 recording, however, was blessed and for many remains unsurpassed.
Oddly enough, I don't especially like either Elisabeth Schwarzkopf or Alfredo Kraus in other repertoire, but here her patrician archness and pellucid technique are perfect for depicting the prim Fiordiligi and his slightly reedy, delicate tones are just right for suggesting Ferrando's starchy smugness before the teenage Angst of his rude awakening. Ludwig is of course delightful: warm and passionate of voice. Taddei is a sharp, biting, vocally acute Guglielmo and Berry's knowing, cynical humorousness as Don Alfonso is ideal. Hanny Steffek makes a pert, funny Despina. Furthermore, all their voices combine ideally, so ensembles are a joy, especially the famous "Soave sia il vento" and the sublime Brindisi quartet.
Böhm's pacing is just so for extracting the comedy and the orchestra's playing is impeccably stylish. OK; there are one or two ugly tape joins - notably thirty seconds into "Fra gli amplessi" - but otherwise the early stereo sound is beautifully clear and balanced. If you love this opera as I do but don't have this version in your collection, you should. The only real competition is Karajan's 1954 recording also with Schwarzkopf and a very fine cast but its sound is dated mono; I want that as a supplement to Böhm. I also enjoy very much Alain Lombard's languorous 1974 recording for the elegance of the singing but that remains an eccentric preference in comparison to this central interpretation.
If it is slightly unusual to have 2 recordings of the same opera by the same conductor in the shops 30 years after they were recorded, it is ever more rare to find 3. Karl Bohm’s expertise as a Mozartian conductor amply justifies this extravagance, and of his 3 recordings, this is his best. The overwhelming impression the recording leaves is one of sympathetic tempi. Bohm could never be accused of rushing Mozart, and to some tastes, he may seem a little slow. For my taste however, a more relaxed tempi allows every nuance and phrase to be articulated correctly, and so great is his control over Philharmonia Orchestra that this recording is a near flawless appreciation of Mozart’s phrasing genius. Recorded in 1962, it has the advantage of capturing the finest cast on any recording. Fiordiligi was one of Schwarzkopf’s most famous roles, and her interpretation is glorious. She brought her considerable lyrical Lieder experience to the role, and her control and warmth of tone wouldn’t suggest that she was nearing the end of her performing (if not recording) career. Dorabella, musically, draws the short straw, with all the biggest and best pieces taken by her sister, but Ludwig prevents the role being seen as merely an also-ran to Fiordiligi. She was a musician of great talent, and, having sung opposite Schwarzkopf for the best part of the preceding 10 years, their voices blend so well as almost to convince one that they were sisters. Fiordiligi’s suitor Ferrando was played at short notice by Alfredo Kraus who shows, in one of his earliest recordings, why he would become one of the finest lyrical tenors of the next 20 years. In an opera absolutely filled with deceit, we are as convinced as Fiordiligi over his protestations of affection in "Fra gli amplessi". For Don Alfonso, Walter Berry conveys fully his machiavellian scheming, and his comic ability brings home to us how much Alfonso is relishing every moment. Finally Taddedi and Steffek are highly competent, although Steffek’s singing through her nose when in disguise (although not uncommon on stage) may annoy some listeners. The real joy of the recording is the combination of conductor and cast in a near perfect rendition of the ensembles, where the musical heart of Cosi is to be found; items such as the farewell quintet in the first Act, the duet in the end of the 2nd Act, and the most beautiful trio ("soavo sil vento") that Mozart ever wrote. This recording is superior to all its competitors as no other so well combines quality of voice with quality of musicianship. The Bohm version in 1974 benefits from Janowitz and Schreier in the 2 lead roles, however the rest of the cast are weaker, and the performance was a live recording, with too many creaks of the stage and turning into and away from the microphones to make it particularly attractive. Fleming (Solti – Decca) and Caballe (Davies – Phillips) are more dramatic Fiordiligis (and sing her biggest aria Come scoglio better than Schwarztopf), however those recordings lack a cast that blend together very well, and some of the phrasing is weak. In short, if you are only to buy one recording of Cosi, then the exceptional cast and Bohm’s inspired direction make this the best recording available (and good value for 3 CDs), and a most for every shelf.
A recommendation by Ralph Moore ought to be enough; without a doubt the most learned and insightful reviewer on Amazon. But just to add to the praise of this recording.
For those particularly fussed about recording quality, this production is outstanding for clarity and sense of space.
Singers: no weaknesses and Schwartzkopf is a fine Fiordiligi. Despina is played for laughs and, after all this is a comedy, albeit one with its dark side. Is it really so hilarious to have your girlfriend fall for your best friend?
Undoubtedly Mozart's finest opera and this recording is currently the finest.
No doubt, Böhm knew his Mozart. Although not the "modern" Mozart playing we hear today, it's full of life. And the singers... Schwarzkopf is absolutely stunning, even better than in the -54 Karajan recording. Ludwig and Taddei are very good in their parts. Kraus is a dramatic Ferrando, maybe a bit too dramatic sometimes. Berry is delivering a superb interpretation of Don Alfonso - with humour and wit. The way he is using small changes of the voice makes it a pure joy everytime he is on "stage"
I was once told that Karl Böhm is a kapellmeister whose interpretation best resembles Mozart's own. Whether or not that's true I get that feeling strongly listening to this beautiful, passionate music. I have heard a few versions of Così fan tutte and of all those, this one, in my experience, is the best by far. I would recommend this piece to anyone who has a passion for good music, for Mozart's music or for this particular opera.
A sublime rendition and worthy of the Great Recordings of the Century category - the digital remastering is of a good quality but if your CD player or DAC has selectable filters I recommend using one with a sharp roll-off to remove that slight "glare" that digital remastering generates. The ultimate recording would be a 200grm vinyl version mastered by Bernie Grundman, albeit on 7xLPs but you cannot have everything!