on 25 October 2012
René Jacobs recordings of Mozart's operas have been a breath of fresh historically informed performance air. Spry tempi, fruity orchestral tones and witty continuo make for a continually engaging listening experience. Some may take issue with his 'authentic' approach, but nobody can doubt the vivacity of his recordings. While Jacobs's Così fan tutte and Le nozze di Figaro presented some of the world's best Mozartians, his recent forays have been less impressive. Thankfully La finta giardiniera is a happy return to form.
Jacobs has made a brave un-Urtext choice in plumping for the 'Náměst' version of the opera, performed in Prague five years after Mozart's death. This is an approximation of what the late Mozart might have made of his failed 1775 opera if he'd had the chance to revise. Fuller orchestrations - with 'emancipated' bassoons and violas - a few seemingly injudicious cuts (summarily reinstated by Jacobs) and, hey presto, you've got an opera that aspires to the Da Ponte trilogy's genius.
It doesn't quite work out that way, but at least on disc you can overlook any dramatic shortcomings. Certainly, Jacobs throws a lot of energy at the piece. The Freiburger Barockorchester is, as ever, a brilliant conduit to the drama. The players give real bounce to rhythmic detail, their playing is ravishing in the lyrical passages and, true to the hallmark style of the Harmonia Mundi discs, the continuo provides a vivid commentary on the drama.
As previous discs boast singer-actors as fine as Simon Keenlyside, Bernada Fink and Angelika Kircschlager (to name but three), the line-up for this Finta looks a little less glamorous. But Sophie Karthäuser is a spirited Sandrina, even if her voice lacks some of the necessary spin to match the ranks of the Freiburger Barockorchester. Alex Penda's strident Arminda proves a better match, not least in her irate 'Vorrei punirti indegno' at the opening of Act 2. Neither can touch Jeremy Ovenden's Contino, which melds a lyrical timbre with a goodly dose of vim and vigor. With Michael Nagy and Nicolas Revenq among others in the comprimario roles, Jacobs has amassed a keen list of Mozartians.
All in, this is a winning performance. Jacobs is less invasive than on his recent Zauberflöte, more hands on than the flat Don Giovanni (both on disc and on DVD). And even if it can't quite match the bounties of his Figaro and Così that's probably more to do with the work than anything Jacobs or his salad days cast are doing. La finta giardiniera will never be the masterpiece for which one would hope, but this recording makes for a delightful foray into the garden.
on 30 October 2012
Listening to this early Mozart opera (albeit here, in a revisionist account attuned to Mozart's late operatic style) reminded me very much of some of Haydn's operas. Perhaps because Haydn's operatic writing never quite matured into what Mozart's late operatic style became. Perhaps too because, much like in Haydn, there is a sense of jollity, helped here in this recording, by some lively timpani and a sprinkling of colourful instrumental effects aimed at bringing the text to life. There is real gusto to the singing in an all round satisfying cast. Continuo support is shared between harpsichord and fortepiano. I don't know enough about the period to know whether this would have happened in an actual performance, but at least we are mostly spared the fantasia-like fortepiano departures that mar some of Jacobs's other Mozart opera recordings. With such highly committed singing and playing as we get here minor quibbles are easily diminished and I've certainly found this release more consistently enjoyable than some of Jacobs's other Mozart interpretations.
While operas of the younger Mozart can sometimes sound quite tedious (one thinks of the Leopold Hager recordings in this regard), there is no tedium here. This is a performance in lush sound that wins by its sheer swagger hinting every now and then at other operas like Figaro or Cosi. Expect a large box and substantial booklet, both of which would be presumptuous (at a time when CD presentations seem to be slimming down) were it not for the fact that the performance earns its shelf space in every way.
on 12 February 2013
Well sung arias and ensembles from the 1989 acclaimed production of the Brussels Theatré de la Monnaie with stage noises, and audience applause. No libretto provided, instead there is a plot summary and mini musical (i.e.harmonic) analyses of each aria. This is the complete Italian version of the Opera. (There is also a German version). It is based on the complete re-discovered Italian recitativi written by Mozart. 3 CD's, good overall sound quality with some unexplained noises and imperfections, as well as mildly disturbing audience and stage noises. A bargain. Well worth the price for a charming and beautifully sung version (on everyone's part) of an early opera of Mozart written at the age of not quite 19 years old.
on 10 June 2015
More obviously than usual, this review of mine is a failure. Under the circumstances it's understandable enough. It warrants an allegory.
In 1995 upon its arrival at Jupiter, the Galileo spacecraft released a probe that descended into the gas giant itself. It lasted 58 minutes before it was crushed by a combination of pressure (230G!) and temperature. Indeed, it is amazing that it lasted that long given that it had shed 80kg of its heat-shield in the initial entry.
Dedicated Mozartian though I be, I find it arduous to listen to La Finta Giardiniera at the best of times. It's a strange work. Worse still, it lacks a definitive recording. For whatever reason (budget cuts?) Hager was deprived of his usual stable (Mathis, Cotrubas and Auger) when he recorded it in the early Seventies.
Here, I lost most of my heat-shield in the Overture. I find Rene Jacobs and his beloved Freiburg Barockorchestra to be an acquired taste. The Junk Yard Dog might enjoy them but there's nothing to say that I have to follow suit. How anyone could ascribe this lumpy, graceless, grit-like muesli to Mozart is beyond me. This is a mere stab in the dark in terms of guessing what an orchestra of his day might have sounded. Moreover, the additional wind-parts are clearly not from Mozart's hand: they obfuscate the texture so why use them? From there, I listened to the opening ensemble where it's clear that Jacobs has assembled his usual array of light-voiced B-grade singers. As the g-forces amassed in "Dentro il mio petto io sento" (given his chronic lack of projection, Nicolas Rivenq won't be household name anytime soon) I hit the kill-switch. A man's gotta know his limitations.
One of the prerogatives of being the President of the Australian Knappertsbusch Association is my dictatorial powers. Come our next meeting, I'll be calling for an intrepid, hard-headed volunteer to step forward from the ranks and risk oblivion.