February 2022 Classical Record Reviews

Cecilia Bartoli: Unreleased
Beethoven, Mozart, Myslivecek, and Haydn
Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano; Kammerorchester Basel, Muhai Tang, cond.
DG 4852093 (24/96 WAV). 2021. Arend Prohmann, prod.; Philip Siney, eng.
Performance *****
Sonics ****

Any concerns that artistic shortcomings might have been the reason that Cecilia Bartoli held back release of this 2013 collection of concert arias and extended vocal scenas are dispelled immediately once you listen. It may be difficult to imagine Bartoli's light mezzo-soprano undertaking Beethoven's dramatic scena "Ah! perfido" in a major opera house, but her limpid and impassioned vocalism, wisely supported by a chamber orchestra, hits the mark. In a voice that recalls Mozart's Donna Elvira about to fly off the handle, Bartoli awes with smooth, perfectly defined downward runs, multi-octave leaps, and the strength of her convictions. She's equally fabulous when she pulls out all the stops at the fiendishly difficult conclusion of Mozart's "Bella mia fiamma, addio ... Resta, o cara."

"Perfection" is the only way to describe Bartoli's rendition of Mozart's great "Ch'io mi scordi di te?" ... Non temer, amato bene K490." With Maxim Vengerov's eloquent violin accompaniment—he sounds just as expressive in Mozart's "L'amerò, sarò costante" from Il re pastore—Bartoli's performance earns its place on the same exalted pedestal formerly reserved for Kathleen Battle's radiant, albeit far more emotionally contained version. No one can replace soprano Elisabeth Schumann in "L'amerò, sarò costante," but Bartoli's version is likely more historically authentic; it's certainly equally credible.

The best is reserved for last, Haydn's Scena di Berenice Hob. XXIVa:10. In a work seemingly tailor-made for her gifts, Bartoli renders the beginning of the Cavatina, "Non partir, bell'idol mio," with heart-rending beauty and sings with the loveliest warm glow in the center of her voice. The searing two-octave rise at the scena's end is stunning. Get this!—Jason Victor Serinus


Hindemith: Symphony "Mathis der Maler," Nusch-Nuschi-Tänze, Sancta Susanna
Soloists, Women of Wiener Singakademie, ORF Vienna Radio Symphony, Marin Alsop, cond.
Naxos 8.574283 (CD). 2021. Erich Hofmann, prod.; Robert Pavlecka, Friedrich Trondl, engs.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

Imaginative programming brings music from two of Hindemith's controversial one-act operas together with his popular symphony. The "dances" from Das Nusch-Nuschi don't sound particularly dancey, save in the shimmying at the start of the second one and in some parts of the third. The brief opening is mostly busy-busy buzzing, only occasionally settling into a lilt. The deftly wrought, rambunctious tuttis make even the dancing bits feel severely symphonic. Alsop has everything well in hand and gauges the crescendos well.

The clear, tranquil opening of Sancta Susanna belies the psychosexual drama that gradually unfolds. Angular melodic contours add a disturbed undertone to otherwise humdrum statements; a short role in rhythmic speech evokes alienation. Renée Morloc (Klementia) falls short just where authority is required, and she's whoopy at peak moments; Ausrine Stundyte (Susanna) sounds a bit bottled up. Both will serve. Alsop draws characterful playing, controlling the churning agitation into the shocking climax.

Against the other two works' Expressionist bent, the Mathis der Maler is clear-eyed and aspiring. The hieratic mood established by the vibrant opening string chords gradually builds into affirmative, even cheerful, passages, culminating in jubilant outpourings. The middle movement's searching reed writing, including a prominent oboe solo, is answered by weighty brass chording. Despite incidental ensemble lapses, Alsop's leadership is purposeful and persuasive, aptly linking and characterizing the finale's diverse materials.

Sonics are quite good, especially vivid in the liquid clarinet duets in Nusch-Nuschi and the deep, powerful brass choir throughout.—Stephen Francis Vasta


Métamorphoses: Nocturnes
R. Strauss, Respighi, Schoenberg
Appassionato, Mathieu Herzog, cond.; Adèle Charvet, mezzo
Naïve V 7423 (CD). 2021. Ken Yoshida, prod. and eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ****½

I'm surprised no one else thought to combine these string-based works on disc. They work well together, though none of these performances quite nails it.

Tagging the Metamorphosen as for "twenty-three solo strings" is misleading: Strauss combined them into varied sectional groupings, with few exposed solos. Herzog paces the slow sections patiently while maintaining the flow; when he impetuously steps up the tempi, they're just right, despite a few bits of confused scansion. The sonority is full and vibrantly "sung" without achieving Karajanesque saturation; the overall motion is good, though the big, biting downward leap arrives underprepared, and the pulsing afterbeats leading into it are buried. (Those in the coda, however, get in the way.)

Respighi scored Il tramonto with quartet accompaniment; orchestral performances add string basses. The impassioned opening leads to a calmer passage; the next brings incisive attacks and full-bodied tone. Charvet inflects expressively with a lovely, soft-edged timbre. Her muffled vowels leave the text unclear, however—you need to follow along with the "booklet"—and the upper notes betray strain. Her final unaccompanied note is under pitch.

The "transfiguration" in the Schoenberg, from the big D-major chord (track 13) to the end, is fervently, movingly phrased. Gentle lyric passages carry a disturbed undercurrent appropriate to the score's program. But you have to get there first. The very slow opening elicits grainy tone from the basses and the piano violins; it goes on endlessly, despite some strong accents and undulating landings. Herzog misses the score's darting, mercurial element.

You'll catch patches of coughing in the otherwise fine concert recording.—Stephen Francis Vasta

Anton's picture

Are they by Cleer?

funambulistic's picture

They appear to be heavily Photoshopped JBL Tune 500BT (at least that is the closest I could find).

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Bonus points for describing what she's listening to.

Robin Landseadel's picture

Cardi B?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

await you, Robin. See you there.


Robin Landseadel's picture

I understand that's where all the kool kidz wind up.

Anton's picture

I will go with Patricia Barber or Eva Cassidy, since this is a Hi Fi site.