8 years ago

Volume 11 Issue 6 - March 2006

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DISCS OF THE MONTH - MOZART@ 250 Mozart arie & duetti Isabel Barakdarian; Michael Schade; Russell Braun CBC Records SMCD5239 Mozart - Lieder Suzie Leblanc; Yannick Nezet-Seguin Atma ACD2 2327 These two recordings of Mozart vocal material could hardly be more different. The daring "early music" approach taken by Leblanc and Nezet-Seguin in their CD Mozart Lieder compared to the high-powered opera trio of Bayrakdarian, Schade and Braun leaves one wondering if this really is music by the same composer. More on this in a moment - first, however, the traditionalists. We tend to love our Mozart in the way we've always heard it, imbued with romantic vocal technique, shaped largely by the needs of the opera stage. We 're comfortable with fullbodied voices, restrained for lyrical and tender interpretation of the melodies crafted by the Wunderkind. This is familiar aural territory for us - highlights from five Mozart operas for which anyone could hum the opening bars. The voices are polished and healthy. The performances meet all expectations. Bayrakdarian, Schade and Braun 's voices have darkened naturally with maturity and care. Russell Braun, in particular, sings with an authority that suits well, his list of opera roles cited in the liner notes. Schade and Bayrakdarian too, provide ample evidence of their artistic standing. These are big voices capable of filling halls and yet we have heard them in recitals both live and recorded, where they astonish audiences with control, expression and intimacy. The collaboration on this CD makes it a highly desirable item for every collector. The recording of Mozart lieder by soprano Suzie Leblanc and Yannick Nezet-Seguin playing a modern copy of a 1790 fortepiano is the true nemesis of the CBC disc above. Here, the intent has been to recreate a period style that we have come to accept unreservedly with recordings of Bach, Handel and earlier composers. Challenging traditional Mozart as we ' ve heard it since childhood is a gamble that some may deem inappropriate. Artistically, this disc is near perfect. Ifwe apply the criteria of period performance, we find vocal clarity and lightness with power 78 when the lieder require emotional impact. The singing is as straight tone as Leblanc can make it with only the subtlest hints of vibrato. The fortepiano accompaniment is technically impressive but the recording acoustics are just a tad too reverberant for the kind of intimacy these songs really require. They vary stylistically from hymn-like to operatic. Oddly enough, Mozart offers early pre-echoes of a lieder style we encounter again in Beethoven and later Schubert. The repertoire choices and performance style of this disc are unique. It may be slightly ahead of its time. Alex Baran Mozart - Violin Concertos James Eh nes; Mozart Anniversary Orchestra CBC Records SMCD5238 -2 From the acknowledgments and program note in the booklet of this CBC CD, one gets the first indication that the four days in August, 2005, that Canada's pre-eminent violinist James Ehnes spent at the George Weston Recital Hall with 27 of his closest musical friends was a special experience. The result is a transcendent digital recording of Mozart's entire output for solo violin and orchestra. That Ehnes publishes biographies of each of the orchestra members is another sign that this was a tremendous collaborative effort. With his playing, Ehnes proves once again that he possesses a rich tone, impeccable intonation and a simply beautiful way with a phrase. I especially appreciate the shaping of the solo playing in slow move-ments: the way the longlined melodies spin effortlessly out into the ether. In the faster movements, Ehnes ' playing is poised and always at the service of the music. While it is Ehnes' solo performances that recommend this CD very highly, there are a few places where the orchestra could have used slightly stronger direction, specifically in the balance between winds and strings and sense of forward motion. The considerable WWW. TH EWHOLENOTE.COM intellectual meaning of these pieces is slightly hampered by a lack of direction and attention to detail in this regard, but this is a minor point. In general, the performances shimmer with energy and a refreshing sense of spontaneity. All cadenzas are written by Ehnes and, as a labour oflove, this whole recording - all two CDs worth - is a magnificent achievement and stands head and shoulders above a recent sim i Jar project from Anne-Sophie Mutter. Larry Beckwith Mozart? The Festival Winds CBC Records MVCDl173-2 One of the most popular chamber ensembles in late 18th century Vienna and Prague was the Harmonie, a wind octet comprising pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns, often with string bass added for ballast. Besides original compositions, a wealth of favourite operatic and symphonic selections were arranged for this tonally flexible and eminently portable (and marketable) grouping, primarily for use in social situations. In a letter to his father, Mozart complains that ifhe doesn 't soon finish an arrangement for Harmonie of tunes from his opera Abduction from the Seraglio, someone else will beat him to the profits. From the appendix of the Kochel catalogue reserved for "doubtful" works come the 25 movements grouped into five' Partitas' on this double CD; some exist only in early 19th century editions, and others in manuscript copies not in Mozart's hand. Clarinettist David Bourque has prepared these latter works for modem publication with meticulous attention to preserving the integrity of the sources, for which he deserves our thanks. The performances on this disc are clean, stylish, and infectious from the opening track, as one would expect from Mssrs. Campbell, Mason, Sommerville, et al, the resident ensemble at Parry Sound's summer music festival. They give us the full variety of appealing, affecting, invigorating tone colours available to the Harmonie, with obvious enthusiasm. While everyone may have their own opinion on stylistic grounds about which movements are actually by Mozart, in the end it doesn't really matter when performed by an ensemble taking such pleasure in their music making. Highly recommended. Colin Savage M A RCH 1 - APRIL 7 2006

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