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Enjoy the Music.com Best Of 2004 Award

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Le Nozze di Figaro
Rene Jacobs Conducting The Concerto Koln

Review By David Cates
Award Commentary By Wayne Donnelly 
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Le Nozze di Figaro

CD Number: Harmonia Mundi HMU 901818.20 (3 CDs) 


  Let me start with an editor's confession. David Cates submitted his review back in the summertime, and I didn't publish it then because I intended to write a second review to be published simultaneously. Not that I wanted to take issue with David's Judgment-essentially I agree with virtually everything he says, including his lavish praise for the fortepiano continuo playing of Nicolau de Figueiredo. (Those keyboard players look out for each other!) Enjoy David's review, and I'll add a commentary at the end. -- WD


  Rene Jacobs made a sensational impact in 1999 with his fresh and thrilling period instrument performance of Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte, and he's done it again working wonders with Mozart's masterpiece, The Marriage of Figaro. What I find so remarkable about Jacobs' performances are the sense of spontaneity, the clarity and sparkle of the ensemble, and the grasp of the dramatic.  The performance brims with imagination improvised embellishments in the arias, and the wonderful continuo, featuring a fortepiano providing the support for the singers in the recitatives, instead of harpsichord (Nicolau de Figueiredo, the same remarkable pianist as in Jacobs' Cosi). There are no weak links, as there so often are in large vocal works; Jacobs has assembled a truly exceptional cast of singers.

The orchestra is a sleek virtuoso band; it responds with feline grace to the demands of the music. It whispers and lilts, and then roars when called for. The textures are always clear, and the balance perfect. I can't imagine a finer instrumental ensemble: nimble, lithe, transparent, sweet and flexible, yet capable of crisp, robust and powerful fortissimos. The way the fortepiano emerges organically, with such energy, from the preceding tuttis or arias for the recitatives is astonishing; one imagines Wolfgang himself at the piano for the first performances in Vienna.  I greatly prefer Jacobs' approach to this music over modern performances as well as other period instrument versions.  In modern instrument performances, I find the orchestras heavy and lumbering in comparison, and the singers uneven and often too wobbly in their use of vibrato.

Although other period instrument recordings of Mozart operas have brought a welcome freshness to the music, often they have seemed too high-strung, rushed and, well, infected with a downright baroque-ish anemia.  Jacobs calls his performance "neo-classical"; he strives to create a dramatic presentation with what he understands to be the aesthetic and style of the classical period, but not as a historian. He acknowledges that today we can't re-create what was done in Mozart's time; that's not the point. What we can do is create a powerful performance with similar tools and use the musical resources we have. Clearly what distinguishes him from other period instrumentalists is not just his flair for the drama but that he imbues the music with the passionate and beautiful sounds of the classical period. Other period instrument conductors, it's clear from comparison, carry with them strong echoes of their baroque aesthetic of crisp articulation and fast tempi. Not so here; when the music is fast it seems always appropriately so, and never hurried. The orchestra gives the impression of being able to play anything effortlessly, and more importantly with nuance, shape, and gusto in abundance.

The great cast includes Veronique Gens, Patrizia Ciofo, Nuria Rial, and Marie McMaughlin, sopranos, Simon Keenlyside, Baritone, and Lorenzo Regazzo, bass in the role of Figaro. They are all superb. For his astonishing musicianship and contribution, equal billing should be given to the fortepianist, Nicolau de Figueiredo.

Simply stunning, this recording must be the best bar none for this great opera.









Fun With Mozart, And A Figaro For The Ages

Commentary By Wayne Donnelly, Classical Music Editor


  Like my colleague David Cates, and no doubt legions of Mozart lovers everywhere, I have been eagerly anticipating perhaps "desperately hoping for" would be more apt this wonderful follow-up to that ear-opening 1999 Cosi fan tutte.  Where our views diverge, it seems, is our attitude toward the recorded legacy of Mozart operas.  While this new recording is now my favorite Figaro, I am hesitant to consign to the trash heap of inauthenticity the recordings of great conductors including Erich Klriber, Carlo Maria Giulini and Colin Davis, or wonderful singers such as Schwarzkopf, della Casa, Ludwig well, don't get me started.  Such artists have given me decades of pleasure and taught me the deep humanity of Mozart's art, which emerges regardless of performance practice.

In preparing to write this piece, I went back and sampled the various Figaros on my record shelves.  (They're all LPs.) Of those half-dozen sets, the one closest in spirit to Jacobs' is from the 1934 Glyndebourne Festival performance under the great Fritz Busch. Of course that set is too old to feature period instruments (ironic, huh?). But even through the faded 1930's sound, it sparkles with life, with the sense of a well rehearsed ensemble of singers some famous, some not bringing exuberantly to life a great comic drama.

But the marketing of opera and opera recordings -- has always been about big stars. Ironically, it is only now, when opera and opera recordings have dwindled to a niche in our culture, do we find a record label willing to go for a degree of performance practice authenticity that bucks that top-down star-driven recording philosophy.

The great thing is, there's no price to pay. Jacobs and his wonderful cast of relative unknowns (Veronique Gens, hardly a household name, is the best-known singer here) have delivered a Figaro that is at once the most illuminating and the most fun of any recording of this masterpiece. And if that ain't worthy of special recognition, I don't know what is.  Congratulations to all the artists and to the invaluable Harmonia Mundi label.  Now let's get busy on Don Giovanni.













































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