SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

MOZART: Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio; Ah, lo previdi; Ah se in ciel, benigne stelle; Vado, ma dove? oh Dei!; Bella mia fiamma, addio; Se ardire e speranza; Exsultate, jubilate – Lenneke Ruiten, sop./ Concertgebouw Ch. Orch./Ed Spanjaard – PentaTone

“Bella fiamma” has the requisite fire and drama. Like the performances of “Ah, lo previdi” and “Se ardire e speranza” (and the melting “Vado ma dove?” too), this is quite enjoyable, finding Ruiten in the very best voice.

Published on June 10, 2010

MOZART: Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio; Ah, lo previdi; Ah se in ciel, benigne stelle; Vado, ma dove? oh Dei!; Bella mia fiamma, addio; Se ardire e speranza; Exsultate, jubilate – Lenneke Ruiten, sop./ Concertgebouw Ch. Orch./Ed Spanjaard – PentaTone

MOZART: Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio K. 418; Ah, lo previdi K. 272; Ah se in ciel, benigne stelle K. 538; Vado, ma dove? oh Dei! K. 583; Bella mia fiamma, addio K. 528; Se ardire e speranza K. 82/73o; Chi sà, chi sà qual sia K. 582; Exsultate, jubilate K. 165 – Lenneke Ruiten, soprano /Concertgebouw Chamber Orch. / Ed Spanjaard – PentaTone Classics multichannel SACD PTC 5186 376, 63:53 (Distr. by Naxos)  ***1/2:

Most of the arias on this disc are not standalone works but are insertion arias written for inclusion in the operas of other composers. I believe only Se ardire e speranza, written to a text by Metastasio in 1770, and Bella mia fiamma, written in 1787 as a gift for Mozart’s Prague friends the musical couple Franz Xaver and Josepha Duschek, are standalone compositions. Legend has it that Josepha, a soprano of some standing, locked Mozart in a pavilion until he produced the aria, while Mozart threatened to destroy the aria he had thus written unless she agreed to sing it on the spot, which must have been quite a feat given its manifold difficulties.

The gentler aria Vorrei spiegarvi was composed for insertion in an opera of Pasquale Anfossi performed in Vienna in 1783. Ah, lo previdi, also written for Prague and again specifically for the talents of Josepha Duschek, adorned an opera by one of Mozart’s chief rivals, Giovanni Paisiello. Finally, Chi sà and Vado ma dove? were written for inclusion in an opera by another rival, the forgotten composer Martín y Soler, performed in 1789 in Vienna’s Burgtheater.

Exsultate, jubilate is often included in programs such as this though its provenance and nature are very different. The work is a religious motet that Mozart composed in Milan in 1773 when he was visiting that city to put on a performance of his early opera Lucia Silla. Some critics speak of this piece by the seventeen-year-old Mozart as his first genuine masterwork. Its inclusion here is welcome, and while Lenneke Ruiten’s performance doesn’t banish memories of my benchmark recording by Elly Ameling, it is a very good one nonetheless.

In fact, Ruiten does greater justice to the earlier works on the program, including Ah, lo previdi and Se ardire e speranza, which are admittedly simpler and lighter in weight. The soprano essays some extremely light and delicate singing in Vorrei spiegarvi, but here and in Ah se in ciel, benigne stelle, the light singing exposes some weakness in her upper range. She has a tendency to swoop up to or elide some of the higher notes and to pipe rather than sing the very highest. Ruiten’s middle and lower ranges are much more commanding. Then, too, rival singers and orchestras bring out more drama in these two arias. Ruiten and conductor Spanjaard seem to warm to their assignment, though, and Bella mia fiamma has the requisite fire and drama. Like the performances of Ah, lo previdi and Se ardire e speranza (and the melting Vado ma dove? too), this is quite enjoyable, finding Ruiten in the very best voice.

If the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra doesn’t always inject the highest levels of drama into the music, it plays beautifully, the wind playing a model of grace and suavity. However, this is the second recording in a month that I’ve audited in which the harpsichord appears as questionable continuo instrument in music of the High Classical period. I don’t know what justification there is for its inclusion in late Mozart, but there it is. It’s not intrusive, and I’m not complaining so much as merely reporting. I’d appreciate any thoughts on this matter, either pro or con.

Pentatone has recorded the orchestra in a sumptuous acoustic where it seems a little bigger than life but with an excellent sense of spread and depth. The voice, too, is set at a realistic remove from the listener, among the players and not at all spotlighted. If Ruiten had sung equally well throughout the recital, this recording could have stood as a model of how to record Mozart for the voice.

- Lee Passarella




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