Notes and Editorial Reviews
Box set includes libretto in Italian translated into English, French, and German readable as a PDF download
This set offers the nearest to perfection one can expect in an imperfect world. A high claim in a field full of satisfying recordings of this work? Perhaps so, but I hope I can justify it. Buoyant, intimate, wondrous are some of the epithets I would apply to Oestman's conducting, with tempos that are consistently related one with another. Singers, players and engineers contribute to the sense of a spontaneous and joyous reading created in the same mood as Oestman's other sets of Mozart operas, and so designed to lift the most downtrodden spirit—and isn't that what this unique work should achieve?
Throughout, the approach is new-minted. Too often period-instrument performances can seem didactic and/or etiolated or, as in the other periodinstrument performance conducted by Norrington, too keen to make a point. Here the translucent and light textures, the smarter speeds, the elating rhythms create an intimate and immediate experience that speaks directly to listeners at home, takes them into its confidence. Once drawn in, he or she must be enchanted by its magic. The late Peter Wadland initiated the aura of the Oestman sets: his successors have here given him a suitable memorial in maintaining his high standards, in musical and sonic terms.
He was still there to influence the casting, and as ever he chose his singers with an unerring ear for the right voice for each role. Barbara Bonney has sung Pamina for Harnoncourt's Teldec version (7/89). Good as she was there, here she surpasses that portrayal, singing with finely poised tone and immaculate phrasing, especially at the cry "Die Wahrheit", in her plangent account of the G minor aria, and in her forthright contribution to the Trials scene. In every way she is superior to the edgy, unsettled Upshaw on the Norrington, and she manages to overcome the awkwardness in the libretto that finds Pamina constantly siding with her mother while moving inexorably into the Sarastro camp.
Excellent as is Rolfe Johnson on the EMI set, Kurt Streit is still better. His silvery tenor, beautifully even delivery and sense of wonder at articulating the text make him an ideal Tamino: try the phrases starting "Durch em n ungliicklich Weib bewiesen" in his colloquy with the Speaker, a role taken with proper gravity by Hagegard, an erstwhile Papageno, and preferable to Norrington's grey-toned Bar, or the flute aria and you'll admire the gleam and cogency of Streit's singing, although the addition of bird sounds in the latter's introduction may be thought superfluous.
Cachemaille manages neatly to balance comedy and poignancy in portraying a childlike yet paradoxically virile Papageno, and suffers not at all in comparison with the many notable interpreters of the role on older sets: he is certainly preferable to Norrington's straight-faced Schmidt. While one might have liked to hear for a change a soprano other than Sumi Jo, as Queen of Night—she has already recorded the part twice, under Armin Jordan (Erato, 5/90) and Solti (Decca, l0/9l)—she justifies her reappearance by her accomplishments in her arias, accommodating Oestman's spirited approach, and she is far superior to Norrington's ill-at-ease soprano. At the other end of the vocal scale, Sigmundsson is a paragon of a Sarastro, combining weight of voice and a typically Scandinavian timbre, with significant speech, far securer in both respects than Hauptmann on the rival set (though not as firm with his legato as Moll for Solti and Davis). Ruth Ziesak, Solti's Pamina, here leads a spirited collection of Ladies, with Iris Vermillion, at No. 3, especially pointed in her unsuccessful wooing of Tamino.
The spoken text is as full as on any version but it is taken so briskly that its length seems wholly justified and it is as closely related to the acoustic of the singing as on the Solti set. That is just a further indication of the care taken to make this seem a natural, unaffected recording of a natural, unaffected interpretation. So are the well-placed sound effects.
Now I am far too wily in these days of multiple recordings of popular operas to say that this one trumps the lot, but at this moment it seems as near ideal as any other, and certainly better integrated as a whole than its period-instrument counterpart on EMI. Which is not to say that those who like a weightier and/or more romantic, nineteenth-century approach, or who remain allergic to authentic practice, won't still prefer, as I may in certain moods, the merits of the Solti, Haitink and Davis versions. They offer the well-tried insights of Mozartians long experienced in the theatre, not to forget many classic portrayals, notably Price's Pamina and Schreier's Tamino for Davis. But for the moment I am eager to go back and sample again the life-enhancing delights of this new Oestman set.
-- Gramophone [2/1994]
reviewing original release of this recording
Works on This Recording
Die Zauberflöte, K 620 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Simon Schnorr (Boy Alto),
Dennis Naseband (Boy Soprano),
Petteri Salomaa (Bass),
Lillian Watson (Soprano),
Iris Vermillion (Mezzo Soprano),
Pia Hansen (Soprano),
Oliver Widmer (Bass),
Ruth Ziesak (Soprano),
Herbert Lippert (Tenor),
Gilles Cachemaille (Baritone),
Kristinn Sigmundsson (Bass),
Sumi Jo (Soprano),
Barbara Bonney (Soprano),
Martin Petzold (Tenor),
Hĺkan Hagegĺrd (Baritone),
Robert Wörle (Tenor),
Kai Suzuki (Boy Soprano),
Kurt Streit (Tenor)
Drottningholm Court Theatre Orchestra,
Drottningholm Court Theatre Chorus
Written: 1791; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 08/1992
Venue: Nacka Aula, Stockholm, Sweden
Length: 155 Minutes 56 Secs.
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