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RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR

Opera

Verdi Aida Anja Harteros sop Aida; Jonas Kaufmann ten Radamès; Ekaterina Semenchuk mez Amneris Chorus and Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia / Sir Antonio Pappano Warner Classics S c 2564 61066-3 (A/15) Producer Stephen Johns Engineer Jonathan Allen

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When Christian Gerhaher came to the title-role in Berg’s masterly setting of Büchner’s play the outcome was always going to be a major event. Just as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was the definitive Wozzeck for his generation, so his successor as the outstanding Lieder singer at the start of the 21st century has assumed his mantle in this role, too.

Scrupulously sung, acted with a gentle honesty, Gerhaher’s Wozzeck is vulnerable, plaintive, in short all-too-touchingly human. It is exactly what we expect from him that there should be an eloquence to his every utterance. Is it right that Wozzeck should come across as something of a poet? Yes, because the music adds its own poetry, and Gerhaher draws from it an expressiveness that pierces the heart.

Homing in on the opera’s expressionist style, the director, Andreas Homoki, has set it in a puppet theatre, part commedia dell’arte, part Punch and Judy, a make-believe world of ritual cruelty. This is not the only way to play Berg’s opera, but the geometric designs are striking, the colours (that sickly yellow!) are gruesomely vivid, and Gerhaher, above all, is placed in a visual frame of extraordinary clarity.

This is a high-class ensemble all round. Gun-Brit Barkmin is a fascinating Marie, charismatic like a young Anja Silja. Brandon Jovanovich struts his strong, incisive tenor as the Drum Major, Mauro Peter is a sympathetic Andres, and Wolfgang AblingerSperrhacke and Lars Woldt engage in a macabre comic doubleact as the Captain and the Doctor. With precise, clear playing from the Philharmonia Zürich under conductor Fabio Luisi, everything is in place for the technical team at Accentus Music to deliver a DVD of top-notch quality and seal the recording’s success. They have, and this Wozzeck makes a deserving winner of Gramophone’s 2017 Opera Award. Richard Fairman

Choral

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Mozart Mass in C minor, K427. Exsultate, jubilate, K165 Carolyn Sampson sop Olivia Vermeulen mez Makoto Sakurada ten Christian Immler bar Bach Collegium Japan / Masaaki Suzuki BIS F Í BIS2171 Producer Hans Kipfer Engineer Jens Braun

Nobody knows why Mozart abandoned the ‘great’ Mass in C minor that he started by the end of 1782 and seems to have performed at least in part during a visit to Salzburg in October 1783. With such a vast discography of stylish historically aware versions at our fingertips, one might be forgiven for wondering what more needs to be said about an incomplete work. Of course, the truth is that Mozart’s unfettered genius emanates from every page, and its unalloyed musical virtues ensure that every worldclass period-instrument orchestra and top-notch choir is going to find fresh twists worth hearing. Masaaki Suzuki uses an edition by Franz Beyer that discreetly orchestrates movements that Mozart did not finish but does not attempt to present movements for which no authentic music survives. Bach Collegium Japan’s interpretation brims with lifeaffirming messages in all the right places. The consoling ‘Kyrie eleison’, at the slowest end of the range of plausible tempi, melts the heart with every transparently woven strand in the musical fabric. The proclamatory ‘Gloria’ and buoyant ‘Credo’ hit the right mark unerringly, and there is intensity and tautness in the double-choir ‘Qui tollis’ (choral suspensions exploited gloriously and just the right amount of silence exploited in the dottedrhythm strings). Suzuki’s perspicacity ensures finely drawn strings, cultivated woodwinds and braying brass are all given the reins to exploit their instruments’ fullest sonorities when the context merits it. There is a twinkling sense of fun in the orchestra’s elegant theatricality during solo movements, most notably Olivia Vermeulen’s light-footed ‘Laudamus te’ and Carolyn Sampson’s gorgeous singing in conversation with concertante flute, oboe and bassoon in ‘Et incarnatus est’. Bach Collegium Japan’s wondrous choral singing has flexibility, precision and eloquence aplenty. Even admirers conversant with these performers’ distinguished track record might be swept away by this refreshingly openhearted, spontaneous and natural Mass in C minor. David Vickers

34 GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2017

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