GRAMOPHONE AWARDS SHORTLIST 2018
a specialist taste. But it is hard to imagine this music, often delightful, sometimes witty, intermittently touching, coming alive more vividly than it does here. Richard Wigmore (2/18)
Mozart Il sogno di Scipione Stuart Jackson ten �Scipione Klara Ek sop �Costanza Soraya Mafi sop �Fortuna Krystian Adam ten �Publio Robert Murray ten �Emilio Chiara Skerath sop �Licenza Choir and Orchestra of Classical Opera / Ian Page Signum M b SIGCD499 (108’ • DDD) Includes synopsis, libretto and translation
Like Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, ‘Scipio’s Dream’ is an azione teatrale. The circumstances of the work’s composition and performance are not entirely clear. It seems that Mozart wrote it in honour of the Archbishop of Salzburg, Sigismund Schrattenbach, who died before it could be performed. It was then brought out (with a simple change of name in the final recitative) for Hieronymus, Count Colloredo, who was later to cause Mozart so much grief; it may have been performed as part of the celebrations marking Colloredo’s entry into Salzburg in April 1772.
The libretto was an old one by Metastasio, first set in 1735, whose sources were Cicero and Silius Italicus. In a dream, Scipio Africanus the Younger is visited by Fortune and Constancy, who require him to choose between them. He finds himself in the heavens, where he meets his father Emilio and his adoptive father Publio. He would like to remain with them but that is not allowed, as he still has great deeds to accomplish. Publio and Emilio refuse to advise him. In the end, Scipio plumps for Constancy; Fortune threatens him with disaster, but he awakes safely back on Earth. In the closing ‘Licenza’ a singer sycophantically addresses the archbishop: the subject is not Scipio but Hieronymus himself. Metastasio’s libretto includes several of his trademark metaphor arias. Mozart’s setting – a string of recitatives and arias, with one accompanied recitative near the end – is leisurely, with long orchestral introductions and florid vocal writing. The exception, Publio’s ‘Quercia annosa’, provides telling relief; but, to be fair, the 15-year-old Mozart showed good dramatic sense by abridging the da capo repeats.
The Orchestra of Classical Opera, playing on period instruments about a semitone below today’s pitch, are quite wonderful: a special bouquet to Gavin Edwards and Nick Benz, whose B flat alto horns take them into the stratosphere. The singers, most of them new to me, are just as fine. Stuart Jackson manages the melismas and wide leaps of his two arias with confidence and elegance; his fellow tenors, Krystian Adam and Robert Murray, likewise display an exemplary stylishness. Constancy’s first aria and Fortune’s second are bland and pretty well interchangeable: Soraya Mafi gets more out of Fortune’s vigorous ‘Lieve sono’, while Klara Ek seals Constancy’s triumph with a brilliant account of ‘Bianchieggia in mar lo scoglio’, the kind of heroic aria that da Ponte parodied in Così fan tutte. Mozart wrote two versions of the ‘Licenza’ aria: Chiara Skerath sings them both, beautifully.
Ian Page presides over a charming performance, with well-paced recitatives and appropriate, sometimes extravagant decoration. This is minor Mozart, done supremely well. Richard Lawrence (10/17)
R Strauss Salome Emily Magee sop �Salome Wolfgang Koch bass-bar �Jokanaan Peter Bronder ten �Herod Michaela Schuster mez �Herodias Benjamin Bruns ten �Narraboth Claude Eichenberger mez �Page Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra / Andrés Orozco‑Estrada Pentatone F b Í PTC5186 602 (113’ • DDD/DSD) Recorded live at the Alte Oper, Frankfurt, September 10, 2016 Includes synopsis, libretto and translation
With a coupling of Ein Heldenleben and Macbeth released on Pentatone last year
(11/16), Andrés Orozco-Estrada and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony already showed themselves to be impressive Straussians. They offer something even finer to my ears in Strauss’s breakthrough operatic score, recorded at a concert in Frankfurt in the autumn of 2016.
Orozco-Estrada’s approach is unrushed and often expansive, and certainly less concerned with the slash-horror effects that come up afresh on the recently remastered Solti set (Decca, 10/17) – remarkably, the present recording also takes nearly a quarter of an hour longer than Solti’s. But there’s no lack of detail in Pentatone’s rich sound, and I found myself hearing plenty of things afresh: the divided viola and cello harmonics and glissandos as Salome and Herod discuss the silver charger (disc 2, track 3, from 0’36”), or the needly harp describing a crown of thorns (disc 1, track 12, 0’35”). For once, too, we have an organ towards the end of the final scene that communicates something suitably uncanny.
And though Orozco-Estrada’s approach is leisurely by the clock, he offers no shortage of energy and shock and shudder. After holding back initially, he whips up a storm in the big interlude after Jokanaan’s curse, and he offers us a Dance that alternates febrile energy with languid, hip-swinging seductiveness. The big orchestral outburst after Salome issues her demand for a final time is properly shattering.
That moment is also demonstrative of the set’s other great asset: Emily Magee’s Salome spits out her words as part of a characterisation of the Judean princess that’s compellingly real and convincing. Listen, too, to the taut, intense monodrama she and Orozco-Estrada make of the minutes as she awaits the executioner’s strike. Magee’s is a voice that swells into phrases rather than attacks them, and is perhaps a touch more opaque in its colour than ideal, but she sounds fresh throughout and sings the big final scene compellingly – an especially impressive achievement given that this was recorded live.
The rest of the cast includes singers similarly experienced in their roles, and although Wolfgang Koch’s timbre is too smooth for him to represent a properly threatening and authoritative presence as Jokanaan, he sings the role generously and reliably. Benjamin Bruns is an urgent and dramatically involving Narraboth and Peter Bronder and Michaela Schuster are a vivid pair as Herod and Herodias. Some members of the extended cast are a little disappointing by comparison but Sung Ha stands out as an eloquent First Nazarene.
In a crowded catalogue this newcomer is unlikely to replace old favourites, but it offers an unusually persuasive aural drama and a deeply musical account of the score – a compelling listen featuring a fine cast and expertly conducted. It’s a set that can be warmly recommended. Hugo Shirley (1/18)
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GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2018 31