This cd contains a rendition of a live concert given november of last year (2012) to commemorate the 200 year anniversary of the "Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde" in Vienna. Mr. Harnoncourt conducts, according to the textbook and some online research that I did, a massively expanded Concentus Musicus Wien, the Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna and soloists Roberta Invernizzi, Werner Gura and Gerald Finley. According to the research that I did, the piece was originally composed by Friedrich Handel on a text by John Dryden but later translated into German by Carl Wilhelm Ramler in 1766. Mozart reworked this translation to a large extend for a series of concerts in july of 1790. In fact, the revision by Mozart of this work is to such a degree that the work carries its own number in Kochel`s Verzeichnis der Werke W.A. Mozarts.
The concerts in Vienna`s Musikverein in November 2012 were done as a celebration of this institute`s 200th birthday and tried to recapture or duplicate the Musikverein`s first concert ever November 29th, 1812. That particular concert was conducted by Ignaz Franz von Mosel who, according to the documentation, further revised the work to include a large bass drum.
The power of this music is simply stunning. To my ears, the "Handel" part is much larger than the "Mozart" part, but, of course, I have not researched the autograph scores in the Musikverein`s library the way that Mr. Harnoncourt did for this performance so, how could I really know what Mozart changed in Handels`s score for his performances? Moreover, I do not know the original Handel piece called "Alexander`s feast or the power of music" well enough to have any opinion on the matter.
The historic angle is interesting, of course. However, much more imortant is the quality of the performance which leaves the hearer slack-jawed. This wonderfull, powerfull music that rocks the very soul! The orchestra plays as precise and inspired as ever. The choir is extremely versatile and flexible, especially when one knows that it consists of 100 singers.. The soloists are great and seem genuienly inspired by the musical direction.
The secon disc starts with a litle explanation by Mr. Harnoncourt and a call for the audience to sing along with the first chorus. There is some practising and some witty remarks by the Conductor which evokes lots of laughter in the audience. That audience consisted of everyone of importance in Vienna`s and Austria`s music life among whom Mr. Thomas Hampson! and several other professional singers.. Unfortunately, Sony has not provided a translation into English so that one must speak German to understand it. The booklet with this disc contains very little information anyway, I do wish that some more would have been provided. This is not difficult, either, I know for a fact that the progran for the concert in Vienna held a wealth of info that could easily have been copied for this release. In fact, the audience was given the printed score on the chorus which they were asked to sing along with!
All in all a wonderfull disc of great music. A must for those who like Mr. Harnoncourt`s work and a must for Handel and Mozart lovers.
One tip: Played on a good system, the bass drums are especially loud and may wake up the kids if played late at night.
This is a live recording of a concert which marked the bicentenary of the founding of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna on 29th November 1812 and the defeat of Napoleon in Moscow, heralding the possibility of Austria's liberation from their forced allegiance to the French. It was thus both a cultural and a political, patriotic statement, with Timotheus representing Austrian musical supremacy and Alexander the Emperor who is in thrall to the musician's art.
It sought to recreate the performance of "Timotheus", the German version of Handel's "Alexander's Feast", whose score for a German translation had been prepared by Mozart for the Society of Nobleman in 1790 and which served as the basis of the 1812 celebration. It has so much going for it: Nikolaus Harnoncourt a few days before his 83rd birthday, in the mature plenitude of his powers evincing no sign of flagging and directing a very beefed up orchestra in a performance (I quote the excellent notes)"for which the Concentus Musicus fielded as many players as could be accommodated on the platform in the Grosser Musikvereinsaal, while the Singverein of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde was made up of hundred or so singers...to recreate the sort of massed sounds produced in 1812 in a large hall."
The excitement of the occasion is enhanced by the raucous, atmospheric period horns and a truly impressive bass drum, added to Mozart's orchestration by the first conductor, Franz von Mosel, who, to control these large forces, used a baton for the first time in the history of music. The choir is terrific and the playing both technically and aesthetically of the finest. The recorded sound is big and warm.
Add to this admixture the presence of the wonderful Gerald Finley and the whole enterprise looks so promising. Finley in fact has relatively little to do - only two arias and a snippet of recitative - though he does it with such authority and panache. The other two soloists, however, have a much larger contribution, and there's the rub: they are both disappointing. Werner Güra brings a slight, strangulated tenor to his music and very little variety of tone. He struggles with the coloratura and is audibly short of breath, at times gasping before the runs. Italian period-specialist soprano Roberta Invernizzi is worse: it astonishes me that a singer can go through training, begin performing then be regularly engaged by prestigious institutions while carrying a vocal handicap that will inevitably preclude a major career. In this case it is an applied, wobbly vibrato that she has a habit of suddenly unleashing like a Taser after long, swelled notes without any pulse at all. She also has a tic of squeezing and primping phrases in a manner that is clearly meant to be winsomely expressive but increasingly becomes merely irritating; it seems she can sing absolutely nothing straight and rely on Handel's music to do the job. Surely better could have been found for such a major musical event? As such, what could have been a landmark recording and a real testament to "The Power of Music" becomes a might-have-been.
The much smaller scale English original is by no means the same entity but for the best of what is some of Handel's most winning music, I return to the old, 1978 Philip Ledger recording on EMI. Despite it also having a tenor less than ingratiating, it features Thomas Allen, who is no second-best if I cannot have Finley, and the sopranos Helen Donath and Sally Burgess are simply lovely.
Harnoncourt, as usual, finds something new to say! He has already recorded Handel's original version of Alexander's Feast, once for CD, once for television, both outstanding. This time he uses a special event version of Mozart's reworking of Handel, sometimes to spectacular effect.
Despite its chequered history this music is monumental; full of rich harmonies. The fact that three composers had a hand in the final composition played on this CD does mean a certain uneveness at times. But despite that it remains well worth listening to and rehearing to appreciate.