Notes and Editorial Reviews
Studio recordings of operas get rarer every year. But while several of the major labels have given up on them altogether, and in future intend to issue only live performances, Harmonia Mundi is persisting with its baroque and classical projects with René Jacobs and, if this Marriage of Figaro is representative, certainly reaping the rewards.
This is as fine a Figaro as has appeared on disc in the past 20 years, and certainly the best of the four so far that have used period instruments. The cast has no significant weaknesses, and the playing of the Concerto Köln is alive to every nuance of the score.
Most important of all, this is a version of Figaro that sounds as if it has come straight out of the theatre, as if the spontaneity of a live performance had been reconciled with the accuracy and attention to detail afforded by studio takes.
There is always the twinkling sense of dramatic give-and-take that is the hallmark of a good performance of Figaro in the opera house, and for which Jacobs must be given most of the praise; his approach to the score is a perfect amalgam of the scholarly and the practical.
Tempi are generally on the fast side, and articulation is unfailingly crisp. Melodic lines are often ornamented, but always with discretion and real expressive purpose. Just occasionally the fortepiano continuo is over-elaborate, drawing attention away from the recitative that the singers deliver with such enviable clarity, but that is a minor disadvantage when set against the strengths of so much of this performance.
It is hard to think of another recording of Figaro in which every particle of the text, in ensembles as well as solo numbers, is so clearly enunciated.
That clarity aids everyone's characterisation. Lorenzo Regazzo's Figaro is less boisterous and more serious than some - there's no hint of the cheeky chappie about this quite subversive operator, whose mistrust of his master is profound and dangerous. It makes him a good match for Simon Keenlyside's count, who is genuinely scary but suave when the occasion demands, and for Patrizia Ciofi's flighty Susanna. Ciofi is wonderfully deft in the second act, alongside Véronique Gens's liquid, elegant countess and Angelika Kirchschlager's puppyish Cherubino.
With singers in the smaller roles of the calibre of Marie McLaughlin as Marcellina - who gets her fourth act aria, as does Kobie van Rensburg's Basilio, in this scrupulously complete version of the score - that vividness extends to every element in this fascinating work, here presented for what it is: a profound psychological study of relationships and never just a knock-about farce.
Andrew Clements Friday April 2, 2004 The Guardian