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An Exceptional Recording

Mozart's 'Idomeneo' -
treasured by

'... beautifully paced and crafted ...'

W A Mozart: Idomeneo. René Jacobs. © 2009 harmonia mundi sa

The first and arguably the finest of all Mozart's mature operas, first heard just days after his twenty-fifth birthday, Idomeneo is a demonstration par excellence of the young composer's immense ability, not only in having absorbed thoroughly the older French and Italian styles in order to incorporate them with ease, but also in succeeding to project a forward-looking view of operatic styles. It is structurally an astonishingly clever piece. He incorporated three different types of recitative which kept the flow of the story alive with expert clarity, extraordinarily well defined key characterizations and constantly inventive instrumental colours. There is an abundance of dramatic orchestral recitative, and he even introduced leitmotifs, providing distinctive phrases to identify not only the characters but also their emotional states. He challenged the orthodox forms of aria structure and the vital role played by the chorus with eight substantial interventions throughout.

Mozart could not have been more excited by the huge possibilities offered through this valuable commission by the Elector Carl Theodor. The large and fabulous Mannheim orchestra, an efficient chorus and a distinguished cast gave the young composer opportunities almost beyond his dreams, and yet its longer term success eluded him. After such enthusiastic and careful composition, circumstances proved the libretto to be too long. Constant cuts were made during the composition, and even just before the performance when the Elector decided he wanted an earlier dinner afterwards! Mozart's final Act 3 cuts almost made the story's outcome incoherent. The three performances were however deemed a success. Yet despite several attempts, the opera never again achieved a stage performance. It has quite unjustly suffered neglect, not least because it is said to have a weak libretto (totally untrue!) and therefore a less inspired score.

What is so exciting about René Jacobs' new recording is that it restores all the excitement of the original performances -- without the cuts, and perhaps with a far better cast. Jacobs encourages the continuo players to be inventive, the fortepiano particularly extending extemporisations that incorporate thematic motifs suitably fashioned to the dramatic circumstance. The Freiburger Barockorchester is an impressive replica of the Mannheim -- probably with greater accuracy and colour. And the RIAS Kammerchor gives an exciting sound to the shipwrecked crowds and the coronation guests. Especially outstanding is the team of soloists for, unlike those in the original performances, they can act as well vocally as they must have done on stage.

This is an opera that is concerned with serious human emotions, the worst of which are loneliness and despair. Idomeneo is the king of Crete who travels home through a storm at sea and promises the God of the sea that if he survives he will sacrifice the first person he meets on his home shores. That person is his son. He seeks a way to bypass his promise, and is advised to persuade the youth to escape. The original Idomeneo gave up the part as being far too difficult. Not so Richard Croft. 'Though saved from the sea, I have a sea in my breast more terrible ...'

Listen -- Fuor del mar (Act 2 scene 3)
(CD2 track 6, 3:59-5:45) © 2009 harmonia mundi

Mozart complained that the original father and son, Idomeneo and Idamante, were unable to meet the demands of their first encounter. Richard Croft and Bernarda Fink certainly can, and in beautifully paced and crafted recitative.

Listen -- Cieli! che veggo? (Act 1 scene 9)
(CD1 track 17, 1:14-2:44) © 2009 harmonia mundi

Elettra, Agamemnon's daughter, who hopes to escape with Idamente, proves her instability in an aria superbly crafted for the purpose -- sung by Alexandrina Pendatchanska.

Listen -- Tutte nel cor vi sento (Act 1 scene 6)
(CD1 track 12, 0:18-1:16) © 2009 harmonia mundi

Mozart adapts the old style 'da capo' arias to his own by composing the repeated opening anew. In the end The Voice (of the God) decrees the king's promise to be illegal, and that Idamente should become the new ruler of Crete together with his bride Ilia, a captured Trojan princess, ecstatically sung by Sunhae Im, particularly when she tries to explain to Idomeneo that she, rather than Elettra, might be his son's choice of companion. 'Though I have lost my father ... you are a father to me.'

Listen -- Se il padre perdei (Act 2 scene 2)
(CD2 track 4, 1:11-2:24) © 2009 harmonia mundi

Their quartet in Act 3 gave Mozart considerable problems, not assisted by the soloists all wanting more individual display!

Listen -- Andrò ramingo e solo (Act 3 scene 3)
(CD2 track 23, 3:51-5:23) © 2009 harmonia mundi

This is an exceptional recording, beautifully recorded to give a sense of movement -- even to the chorus -- and a warm resonance to the orchestra. It includes all the ballet music too, and the alternative pronouncement of The Voice which, like Hamlet's ghost (which much impressed Mozart) the composer felt all the better for being succinct! Above all it must be the real inner understanding that René Jacobs brings to this performance, its overall sensitivity and the vigour of the choruses that makes it an invaluable addition to the Mozart cycle.

Listen -- Scenda Amor (Act 3, final scene)
(CD3 track 14, 0:00-1:14) © 2009 harmonia mundi

Accompanying the three-CD set is a forty-five-minute DVD that extracts excerpts from the recording session in Immanuelskirche in Wuppertal, interviews with Jacobs, the cast and the production team as well as some fragments of a concert performance. Altogether a real treasure.

Copyright © 24 December 2009 Patric Standford,
Wakefield UK







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