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Mozart: Operas / John Eliot Gardiner [18-CD Set]

Release Date: 07/19/2011 
Label:  Archiv Produktion (Dg)   Catalog #: 4779595   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Anthony Rolfe JohnsonAnne Sofie von OtterJonathan Peter KennySylvia McNair,   ... 
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque SoloistsMonteverdi Choir
Number of Discs: 18 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

John Eliot Gardiner's outstanding series of recordings of the seven mature Mozart operas took the musical world by storm in the 1990s. They set new standards of singing and orchestral performance, bringing a new dimension to these great works in their vitality and vividness - and making them natural first choices for the consumer. All seven operas are brought together in a compact 18-CD box set, offered at a super value price, in a Limited Edition of just 10,000 sets.

Reviews of the original recordings that make up this set:

Le Nozze Di Figaro
Mozart’s operas are so all-embracing in their concerns that no single conductor is able, it seems, to do equal justice to each. I found John Eliot
Read more Gardiner’s recent Così rather bland and uninspired. This new Figaro – a more ambivalent, indeed more cynical work in so many ways – is on a higher level altogether, an enlightening (one hesitates to apply the over-used epiphet ‘revelatory’) period performance galvanised by a palpably sure sense of dramatic wherewithal.

In common with others these days (though not Arnold Östman on the only other currently available period-instrument account), and with good musicological reasons, Gardiner re-jigs the ordering of Act III, positioning ‘Dove sono’ somewhat earlier than usual. He departs more radically from tradition by offering, in addition, a reordered version of Act IV. This is convincing as scholarship as well as drama – two qualities which inform the whole of this sparkling yet searching performance, a team effort which nonetheless permits plenty of sharply etched characterisation as well as some exceptionally fine singing.

Indeed the casting can hardly be faulted: a dark, even menacing Figaro (Bryn Terfel), a vixenish, knowing Susanna (Alison Hagley), a suave yet incisive Count (Rodney Gilfry), a radiant but far from droopy Countess (Hillevi Martinpelto) and an ardent, hyper-sexed Cherubino (Pamela Helen Stephen). Excellent cameo support too. Perhaps this is the near-perfect Figaro we’ve all been waiting for...
Performance: 5 (out of 5), Sound: 5 (out of 5)

-- Antony Bye, BBC Music Magazine

La Clemenza Di Tito
Listening to this work so soon after hearing Zauberflote one is amazed anew that Mozart could write two such totally contrasted pieces within months of each other. Here, in the composer's last opera seria, we are in another world, one of formality tempered by the deep emotions engendered by love and jealousy. Instead of birdcatchers and Masonic rights we are dealing with historic figures in a supposedly historic context with down-to-earth feelings. For each Mozart finds precisely the appropriate music.

There is a further contrast here. In the Flute reviewed on page 129, we hear modern instruments recorded in an empty hall, and sounding so. Here we are present at a live performance on period instruments. The difference in dramatic electricity is most marked. As anyone who was present at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the evenings from which these discs derive, the sense of dedication and a taut drama unfolding was palpable. That has been carried over in the CDs. As with his Award-winning idomeneo (see page 44) Gardiner favours brisk rhythms, alert, prominent wind and brass, swift tempos. Yet in the great setpieces there is more than enough time for expressive phrasing and licence for the singers to use rubato when they wish. Above all there is an overriding sense of a true ensemble with chorus, orchestra and soloists in complete harmony.

Comparisons are hardly relevant when the whole approach here is so much lighter, more period-orientated than in the rival versions. They are all convincingly cast—the piece seems to draw the best from its interpreters—but none is superior, though one or other is in some respects the equal of the one assembled here. Schreier for Böhm (DG) is as affecting and, in Act 2, as mentally tormented as Rolfe Johnson, who completes a double with his other anguished ruler, Idomeneo. He makes a convincingly clement Emperor and one rightly amazed at his best friend's treachery—listen to the accompanied recitative near the beginning of Act 2 to judge how sympathetically he accents notes and words. His account of "Se all'impero", that properly trenchant exposition of Tito's credo, is technically assured. As in Idomeneo Rolfe Johnson is more than worthily partnered by Anne Sofie von Otter as Sextus. The rapport between them is heartening. Von Otter also scores strongly in accompanied recitative, the passage after Sextus has set the Capitol alight and becomes full of doubt and terror. Sextus's arias have had some splendid performances in previous sets, notably from Teresa Berganza on the Kertész (Decca) and Böhm versions, but nobody seems as fleet in her runs, so subtle in using them for emotional expression as von Otter. She is also a wonderful purveyor of the text's meaning. Her voice is nicely contrasted with the rather slimmer tones of Catherine Robbin as Annius, who is another Mozartian stylist of substance.

Julia Varady, who was Böhm's Vitellia, is even more enthralling here. She manages to be at once bitingly jealous, manipulative, sensual and in the end remorseful, her very individual soprano used to create a rounded, complex character. As with Rolfe Johnson and von Otter her treatment of dry recitative is arrestingly vital. Her reading culminates in an accomplished account of "Non piü di fiori", untroubled by its low-lying phrases. Sylvia McNair, singing with her customary sweetness as Servilia, sacrifices character to purity of tone; in a word her singing is bland. The admittedly dull role of Publio is not helped by Cornelius Hauptmann's woolly singing.

Gardiner cuts much more recitative than Sir Colin Davis (Philips) who offers the fullest text recorded. As it isn't by Mozart that's of small consequence except where we are here thrust too suddenly into the trio "Quello di Tito" in Act 2. The Monteverdi Choir offers just the right urgency and compact sound. One or two slightly ill-kempt passages apart, the playing is as disciplined as it is attentive to keenness of phrasing. The obbligato players are all masterly. We have execution on period instruments that surely must banish all doubts about their use in Mozart. For that reason alone this would now be my recommended version, but to compound pleasure and satisfaction, Mozart's music-drama, once considered marmoreal, here sounds worthy to stand alongside Idomeneo in the opera seria canon. It should win even more friends for the piece.

-- Gramophone [12/1991]

Unless and until further research proves otherwise, this version will remain the definitive recording of Mozart's early masterpiece for a long time to come. That is not to say I shall make a bonfire of the sets listed above, each of which has special features to commend it, merely that Gardiner — who has written how much he owes to Mackerras and Harnoncourt in finding the right route to interpreting the work — has given us a reading that seems to accord as closely as can at present be discerned with both a performance of Mozart's time (of which he gives ample evidence in his accompanying notes though nothing is conclusively proved) and one that sounds thoroughly authentic in the best sense. Those who attended any of the three live performances from which this set has been made will confirm that they were evenings of thrilling music-drama. On those occasions Gardiner experimented with mixtures of the various plausible arrangements of the existing music. Then at a further concert, he performed alone the fullest version possible of the opera's final scenes, a fascinating experience, though one that in context of a stage performance might tire both singers and audience alike.

Here we have the best of all worlds. In the main recording we have a composite version of the surviving music for Munich 1981. In practice Gardiner's choices seem the right ones. Thus we have the longer, more elaborate "Fuor del mar", the shorter of the sacrificial scenes, the briefer of the two brass versions of Neptune's pronouncement and the ballet music. Included are Arbace's second aria, Elettra's "D'Oreste e d'Aiace" and Idomeneo's "Torna la pace". All were cut by Mozart before the premiere but make sense in the context of a recording. In the appendices (on the end of CD2) are bits of recitative from Act 2, the longer of the sacrificial scenes, the longer of the brass versions of Neptune's pronouncement (plus the setting with wind—marvellous), and the scene in Act 3 for Elettra that replaced her aria. This complete recording (minus only the simpler versions of "Fuor del mar" and the shortest version of Neptune's music) offers the intending buyer three, very well-filled discs.

So much for the (quite important) nuts and bolts. All this thoroughness of approach would be of little avail were the performance in any way inadequate, but Gardiner's reading is in almost every respect profoundly satisfying. As he avers, he came to the piece having traversed on disc this work's two great progenitors Jephtha and Iphigenie en Tauride, both operas about parental sacrifice and obviously influential on Idomeneo. Then he brings to the work, as does his orchestra, the experience and knowledge gained through recording the Mozart concertos and late symphonies on period instruments. In matters of phrasing, articulation, melodic shaping, they here benefit from their previous achievement: this is a taut, raw, dramatic reading, yet one that fully allows for tenderness and warmth. You can judge these things as well as anywhere in the March before "Placid° e il mar", then in that chorus itself, the one clean in texture, brisk in articulation, the other suave and appealing in its 6/8 rhythm. You can also hear there the advantage of the right-sized band and choir. Listen, too, to the control of dynamics in the great Act 3 Quartet.

Throughout Gardiner and his team recognize what he indicates in another note, the fact that Mozart conceived the work as through-written without any breaks in the piece's forward movement. As at the Queen Elizabeth Hall this creates the correct sense of internal tensions within external formality. Once or twice in Act 1 I felt that Gardiner's penchant for fierce accentuation was getting the better of him and calling attention to the podium rather than to the music, but the impression soon passed and one listened to the new revelations of the reading without let or hindrance. Tempos are admirably judged.

Although some roles have been as well or better sung on rival sets, none is so consistently cast. Sylvia McNair sings Ilia's grateful, sensuous music with eager, fresh tone and impeccable phrasing even if she can't claim the warm appeal of Jurinac (Pritchard/EMI). Hillevi Martinpelto, the Swedish soprano who made such an impression in the last BBC Cardiff Singer of the Year, is a properly impetuous Elettra who has no trouble with either the eloquent ("Idol mio") or crazed side of the character and whose vocal allure will take her far. Even so the interpretative honours go to Anthony Rolfe Johnson's deeply felt, mellifluously sung and technically assured Idomeneo and to Anne Sofie von Otter's ardent, impetuous, and in the end touching, Idamante: the sacrificial scene between father and son is rightly the moving centrepiece of the whole opera, where the two singers' skill in recitative is finely exemplified. Nigel Robson copes splendidly with the concerned Arbace, most touching in his recitative before his second aria (usually omitted) and then sure-voiced in the difficult divisions in that aria itself. Glenn Winslade is a firm High Priest but Cornelius Hauptmann's bass is too woolly for the deus ex machina.

As I have implied, the playing of the English Baroque Soloists is as accomplished and fluent as ever and the balance of the very immediate recording between them and the soloists is just right. Some edits are just audible and I had the feeling that some of the set numbers were recorded without an audience present, but that doesn't detract from the sense of unity and vividness available from recording a work, by and large, in the right order thus ensuring histrionic truth.

This new set emphatically replaces the startlingly innovative but sometimes eccentric Harnoncourt (Teldec/Warner Classics). The Bohm (DG), in no way authentic, remains the work of a great Mozartian, and the Pritchard (EMI) is a historic document, recalling the early days of rediscovery in this field. But those who want the full Idomeneo story and a profoundly satisfying musical experience must have this new set.

-- A.B., Gramophone [6/1991]

Don Giovanni
This new set has a great deal to commend it to your attention, a worthy addition to Gardiner's distinguished and thought-provoking interpretations of Mozart's operas on disc. Besides the advantages in spontaneity and dramatic conviction afforded by a live recording, I admire the unanimity of approach achieved by a true ensemble with a well-integrated cast totally dedicated to their conductor and to the work in hand. And, of course, the exact, inevitable pacing adopted by Gardiner. No wonder AP averred of the London version that "on the whole Mozart performances don't come much better than this".

Let me put some flesh on this encomium. The recitative is sung with exemplary care over pacing so that it sounds as it should, like heightened and vivid conversation, often to electrifying effect. As an adjunct, ensembles, particularly the Act I quartet, are also treated conversationally, as if one were overhearing four people giving their opinions on a situation in the street. The orchestra, perfectly balanced with the singers in a very immediate acoustic, complements them, as it were 'sings' with them - listen to the sad strings in the opening duet for Anna and Octavio echoing Anna's distraught feelings; or - much later - the sighing woodwinds in Anna's Act 2 aria, or the disciplined, uptight violins in Elvira's "Ah chi mi dice mai", or the mandolin, surely never so seductive, in Giovanni's Serenade, meltingly sung by Gilfry. These are but a few instances among so many, where the players underpin the relevant participant's emotions.

That contrasts with, and complements, Gardiner's expected ability to empathize with the demonic aspects of the score, as in Giovanni's drinking song and the final moments of Act I, which fairly bristle with rhythmic energy without becoming rushed. The arrival of the statue at Giovanni's dinner-table is tremendous, the period trombones and timpani achieving an appropriately brusque, fearsome attack. Throughout this scene, Gardiner's familiar penchant for sharp accents is wholly appropriate; elsewhere he is sometimes too insistent.

As a whole, tempos not only seem right on their own account but also, all-importantly, carry conviction in relation to each other. Where so many conductors today, including Norrington on EMI, rush "Mi tradi", Gardiner prefers a more meditative, inward approach, allowing his soft-grained Elvira to make the most of the aria's expressive possibilities. Then, within numbers, as in the Serenade, his flexibility and rubato permit the singer to add delicate grace-notes and embellishments which, through the experience of several performances, have become wholly integrated into the vocal line, not optional extras. "Dalla sua pace" is a fine exemplar of that, Gardiner phrasing with his tenor and then allowing him to decorate the reprise.

As in his other Mozart opera sets, Gardiner benefits from working with singers whom he knows well. Gilfry's Giovanni is lithe, ebullient, keen to exert his sexual prowess; an obvious charmer, at times surprisingly tender yet with the iron will only just below the surface. Suave and appealing, delivered in a real baritone timbre, his Giovanni is as accomplished as any on disc. I like the way he darkens his tone to confuse Leporello at the start of the cemetery scene. Ildebrando d'Arcangelo was the discovery of these performances: this young bassbaritone is a lively foil to his master and on his own a real showman, as "Madamina" indicates, a number all the better for a brisk speed. It may be complained that, on disc, the pair sound too much alike, but that hardly worries me. Another young Italian, Silvestrelli, is a magnificently sonorous, implacable Commendatore.

Orgonasova once more reveals herself a paragon as regards steady tone and deft technique - no need here to slow down for the coloratura at the end of "Non mi dir" - and she brings to her recounting of the attempted seduction a real feeling of immediacy. In "Or sai chi l'onore" she manages just the right kind of supple urgency. As Anna, Margiono sometimes sounds a shade stretched technically, but consoles us with the luminous, inward quality of her voice and her reading of the role, something innate that cannot be learnt. I would like slightly more insistent consonants from both donne, a skill that they could learn from listening to their male colleagues. Prégardien's Ottavio is mellifluous, finely honed, more individual in timbre and phrase than Ainsley's for Norrington, though not as fluent in runs: he sounds a shade hurried in an unduly quick "II mio tesoro" in an appendix, not Gardiner's finest moment here. Neither the Zerlina nor the Masetto, though both sing smoothly, matches the more lively characterization of Finley and Argenta for Norrington.

Gardiner uses the complete Vienna score in the opera, assigning the Prague alternatives to an appendix. The musicologist writing in the booklet makes a convincing historic case for including the Zerlina/Leporello duet in the performance and rather chafes at the tradition of conflating the two versions, but in practice rather than theory the conflation seems to work best: that duet simply holds up the action for no very good purpose. But I do prefer Archiv's decision on tracking as compared with the EMI arrangement, where we move back and forth between versions, necessitating complicated reprogramming if one wants a more sensible order.

By a very small margin I prefer Gardiner to Norrington, much as I like what the latter achieves in his version. Gardiner's faster tempo for the socalled 'Champagne' aria, slower ones for the 'Mask' trio, Serenade and Elvira's aria seem the more sensible choices. Where the singers are concerned there are inevitably swings and roundabouts. In the case of Giovanni and the two donne honours are about even, though Gilfry is certainly a more interesting Giovanni than Andreas Schmidt. Gardiner scores with his Leporello and Commendatore, Norrington with his Zerlina and Masetto.

Nobody in their right senses is ever going to say there is one, ideal version of Don Giovanni; the work has far too many facets for that. Several of the 'conventional' readings have long-lasting virtues that are not easily to be dismissed, and will be preferred by those wanting a more traditional, less fierily immediate reading then Gardiner's or Norrington's but for sheer theatrical élan complemented by the live recording, the new one is now at the top of my pile, particularly when one also takes into account a recording that is wonderfully truthful and lifelike (some nicely judged perspectives where called for by the stage action), the few stage noises and minimal audience reaction easily overlooked.

-- Gramophone [8/1995]

Cosi fan tutte
"Of the numerous recordings of Cosi fan tutte in the catalogue, many of them excellent, I don't think there is any that has moved me as intensely at the work's ultimate climax, the Act 2 finale, as this new one of John Eliot Gardiner's. Nowadays we recognize, of course, that Cosi is not the frivolous frolic at the expense of womankind that it was long supposed to be, but something much more serious and (in my view at least) deeply sympathetic to women. Gardiner takes much of the finale at a rather steady pace, allowing plenty of time in the canon-toast for a gorgeous sensuous interplay of these lovely young voices, then carefully pacing the E major music that follows, pointing up the alarmed G minor music after the march is heard and sustaining the tension artfully at a high level during the denouement scene: so that, when their vow of undying love and loyalty, ''Idol mio, se questo e vero'', is finally reached, it carries great pathos and emotional weight, and the sense too that all are chastened by the experience is evident in the ensemble that ensues. So this is certainly a Cosi with a heart, and a heart in the right place...Gardiner's [recording] is certainly a connoisseur's performance, subtle and sophisticated, and communicating important things about the opera."

-- Stanley Sadie, Gramophone [2/1994]

Die Entführung Aus Dem Serail
One of Mozart’s most colourful and delightful scores, The Seraglio is stylishly sung here in a performance that includes the spoken dialogue. Gardiner’s orchestral forces are on tip-top form, and the sound is warm and fresh. Performance: 5 (out of 5), Sound: 5 (out of 5)

-- George Hall, BBC Music Magazine
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Works on This Recording

Idomeneo, K 366 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Anthony Rolfe Johnson (Tenor), Anne Sofie von Otter (Mezzo Soprano), Jonathan Peter Kenny (Countertenor),
Sylvia McNair (Soprano), Hillevi Martinpelto (Soprano), Glenn Winslade (Bass),
Cornelius Hauptmann (Bass), Peter Salmon (Tenor), Stephen Charlesworth (Baritone),
Ruth Holton (Soprano), Carol Hall (Soprano), Angela Kazmimierczuk (),
Nicola Jenkin (Soprano), Nigel Robson (Tenor)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Classical 
Written: 1781; Munich, Germany 
Date of Recording: 06/1990 
Venue:  Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 
Length: 210 Minutes 33 Secs. 
Language: Italian 
Die Entführung aus dem Serail, K 384 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Stanford Olsen (Tenor), Luba Orgonasova (Soprano), Cyndia Sieden (Soprano),
Uwe Peper (Tenor), Cornelius Hauptmann (Bass), Hans-Peter Minetti (Spoken Vocals)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Classical 
Written: 1782; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 07/1991 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, London 
Length: 132 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Language: German 
Le nozze di Figaro, K 492 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Rodney Gilfry (Baritone), Susan McCulloch (Soprano), Carlos Feller (Bass),
Bryn Terfel (Bass Baritone), Hillevi Martinpelto (Soprano), Francis Egerton (Tenor),
Julian Clarkson (Bass), Constanze Backes (Soprano), Lucinda Houghton (Soprano),
Pamela Helen Stephen (Mezzo Soprano), Sarah Connolly (Alto), Alison Hagley (Soprano)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Classical 
Written: 1786; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 1993 
Venue:  Live  Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 
Length: 178 Minutes 40 Secs. 
Language: Italian 
Don Giovanni, K 527 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Eirian James (Soprano), Julian Clarkson (Baritone), Ildebrando D'Arcangelo (Bass),
Charlotte Margiono (Soprano), Luba Orgonasova (Soprano), Christoph Prégardien (Tenor),
Andrea Silvestrelli (Bass), Rodney Gilfry (Bass)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Classical 
Written: 1787; Prague 
Date of Recording: 07/1994 
Venue:  Forum at Schlosspark, Ludwigsburg 
Length: 178 Minutes 4 Secs. 
Language: Italian 
Così fan tutte, K 588 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Rosa Mannion (Mezzo Soprano), Rodney Gilfry (Baritone), Rainer Trost (Tenor),
Eirian James (Soprano), Carlos Feller (Bass), Amanda Roocroft (Soprano)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Classical 
Written: 1790; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 06/1992 
Venue:  Live  Teatro Comunale, Ferrara, Italy 
Length: 194 Minutes 21 Secs. 
Language: Italian 
La clemenza di Tito, K 621 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Anthony Rolfe Johnson (Tenor), Julia Varády (Soprano), Catherine Robbin (Mezzo Soprano),
Anne Sofie von Otter (Mezzo Soprano), Sylvia McNair (Soprano), Cornelius Hauptmann (Bass)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Classical 
Written: 1791; Prague 
Date of Recording: 06/1990 
Venue:  Live  Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, England 
Length: 118 Minutes 4 Secs. 
Language: Italian 
Die Zauberflöte, K 620 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Douglas Welbat (Spoken Vocals), Michael Schade (Tenor), Constanze Backes (Mezzo Soprano),
Harry Peeters (Bass), Cyndia Sieden (Soprano), Detlef Roth (Bass),
Susan Roberts (Soprano), Carola Guber (Mezzo Soprano), Maria Jonas (Alto),
Florian Wöller (Boy Alto), Nicholas Robertson (Tenor), Robert Johnston (Spoken Vocals),
Noel Mann (Bass), Robert Burt (Spoken Vocals), Wolfgang Knauer (Spoken Vocals),
Uwe Peper (Tenor), Gerald Finley (Baritone), Jan Andreas Mendel (Boy Mezzo Soprano),
Andreas Dieterich (Boy Soprano), Christiane Oelze (Soprano)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Classical 
Written: 1791; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 07/1995 
Venue:  Live  Forum, Schlosspark, Ludwigsburg, Germany 
Length: 158 Minutes 42 Secs. 
Language: German 

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