17 February 2017

CD REVIEW: Violin victoriousVENEZIA 1700 (Thibault Noally, violin; Les Accents; Aparté AP128) and POLYCHROME (Tobias Feldmann, violin; Boris Kusnezow, piano; Alpha Classics ALPHA 253)

CD REVIEW: Violin Victorious - VENEZIA 1700 (Aparté AP128) and POLYCHROME (Alpha Classics ALPHA 253)[1] TOMASO ALBINONI (1671 – 1751), FRANCESCO ANTONIO BONPORTI (1672 – 1749), ANTONIO CALDARA (1671 – 1736), EVARISTO FELICE DALL’ABACO (1675 – 1742), GIUSEPPE TORELLI (1658 – 1709), and ANTONIO VIVALDI (1678 – 1741): Venezia 1700 – Chamber Works for Violin and ContinuoLes Accents (Thibault Noally, violin and director; Claire Sottovia, violin; Elisa Joglar, cello; Mathieu Dupouy, harpsichord; Romain Falik, theorbo and Baroque guitar) [Recorded in L’Église luthérienne de Bon Secours, Paris, France, 29 September – 2 October 2015; Aparté AP128; 1 CD, 68:38; Available from Aparté, Amazon (USA), fnac (France), jpc (Germany), Presto Classical (UK), and major music retailers]

[2] SERGEY PROKOFIEV (1891 – 1953), MAURICE RAVEL (1875 – 1937), and RICHARD STRAUSS (1864 – 1949): Polychrome – Violin SonatasTobias Feldmann, violin; Boris Kusnezow, piano [Recorded in Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, Germany, 8 – 10 March 2016; Alpha Classics ALPHA 253; 1 CD, 66:52; Available from Alpha Classics/Outhere Music, Naxos Direct, Amazon (USA), fnac (France), Presto Classical (UK), and major music retailers]

Few if any actions have been more significant not only to traditional Western music but also to cultures throughout the world than those that transpired in luthiers’ workshops in northern Italy in the first decades of the Sixteenth Century, when these visionary craftsmen adapted ancient and recent Arabic, Asian, and European instruments into a new creature christened as the violin. From the benches of masters working in Brescia, Cremona, and Venice, this marvel in wood traveled to every corner of the globe, establishing an enduring presence in the lives of people of all social stations, accompanying peasants’ celebrations and the festive occasions of kings. Music being no less subject to Newtonian logic than physics, it is only natural that, presented with the uncharted sound world of a new instrument, composers’ equal and opposite reaction was to explore the violin’s capabilities, creating music tasked with exploiting every sound that can be cajoled from its strings. Doing just that, the violin was by the turn of the Seventeenth Century firmly entrenched by its earliest generations of composers and players as the melodic anchor of the burgeoning musical institutions that remain at the core of Western Classical Music in the Twenty-First Century. Exploring vastly different epochs in the history of music for the violin and thereby epitomizing the instrument’s broad stylistic flexibility, new releases from Aparté and Alpha, both of which were intelligently planned and beautifully recorded, offer dissimilar but equally distinguished views of the violin’s evolution. Moreover, these discs demonstrate the prodigious talents of a new generation of violinists, personified on these releases by Thibault Noally and Tobias Feldmann. Even when the music is not new, these discs divulge, today’s most gifted violinists continue to propel the advancement of the instrument.

Here turning his attention to Venetian music mostly from the first quarter of the Eighteenth Century, Noally and his ensemble Les Accents—violinist Claire Sottovia, Baroque cellist Elisa Joglar, harpsichordist Mathieu Dupouy, and Romain Falik on theorbo and Baroque guitar—offer a stunningly virtuosic and fabulously animated survey of pieces by some of Italy’s leading Baroque masters. Little Tribeca’s exceptional sound engineering allows Giuseppe Torelli’s Sonata in E minor for violin and continuo (GieT 60) to make a near-overwhelming impression in its first appearance on disc. Noally alternately exclaims and sighs in his limning of melodic lines, responding with an actor’s intuition to the music’s emotional intricacies. This integration of musicality with open-hearted expressivity is also integral to Noally’s approach to Francesco Antonio Bonporti’s 1712 Invenzione in C minor for violin and continuo. The violinist’s phrasing in the opening Lamentevole movement recalls Maria Callas’s long-breathed singing of bel canto cavatine, followed by a vivacious performance of the allegro Balletto that mimics the contrasting brilliance of Callas’s delivery of up-tempo cabalette. Marked comodo assai by the composer, the subsequent Aria is played hypnotically, Noally’s strings ‘singing’ with evenness and beauty of tone still rare in performances featuring period instruments and techniques. The concluding allegro non presto Fantasia explodes from the violinist’s bow, the complex figurations rippling from his fingers like firecrackers.

A pioneer who paved the way to success at the Habsburg court in Vienna for later Italian-born composers including Antonio Salieri, Antonio Caldara possessed one of the finest musical minds of the late Seventeenth and early Eighteenth Centuries but has only recently begun to reclaim the esteem to which the fruits of his genius entitle him. Among the most satisfying of those fruits is his 1699 Ciaconna in B♭ major for two violins and continuo (Opus 2, No. 12), a piece in which Caldara’s faculty for interweaving writing for a pair of instruments rivals Bach’s and Mozart’s achievements in their respective Double Concerto (BWV 1043) and Sinfonia concertante for violin, viola, and orchestra (K. 364/320d). Noally and Sottovia braid their timbres with the organic rapport of snowflakes melting into one another. As they perform it, the Ciaconna is an intimate but impassioned dialogue upon which the scintillatingly-realized continuo discreetly comments. Also dating from 1699, Caldara’s Sonata in C minor for two violins and continuo (Opus 2, No. 7) is another work that exemplifies the merit of the composer’s oeuvre. The largo Preludio with which the Sonata opens is a starkly emotive piece in the playing of which the violinists accentuate the bold harmonic progressions employed by Caldara as a sentimental device. The thematic relationships in the andante Allemanda and allegro Corrente are pointedly but not excessively emphasized, heightening appreciation of the intelligence of Caldara’s musical designs. To the Tempo di Sarabanda, assigned the practical tempo non tanto allegro, Noally and Sottovia devote the focused energy of a geyser, their playing surging through the surface of the music and submerging the lilting sarabande rhythm in a flood of crisp exchanges between two insightful, ideally-matched virtuosi.

Joining the Sonata by Torelli, with whom its composer may have studied, in here being committed to disc for the first time, Evaristo Felice Dall’Abaco’s 1716 Sonata in G minor for violin and continuo (Opus 4, No. 12) is revealed by Noally’s performance to be a work of substance and temperament equal to the composer’s better-known concerti. Spending time in France during the course of his career and eventually exiled in Munich, where he died in 1742, Dall’Abaco absorbed elements of the musical trends prevalent north of the Alps in the first half of the Eighteenth Century, fusing these with the examples of Torelli, Vivaldi, and Corelli. Italian models unquestionably exerted the strongest stylistic influence on the present Sonata, but the structure of the Largo that launches its journey, seductively performed by Noally and Les Accents, hints that the composer’s musical cosmopolitanism was already taking shape. The key of Tartini’s ‘trillo del diavolo’ sonata, alleged by the composer to have been written in 1713 but commonly attributed by modern scholarship to the 1740s, G minor had diabolical connotations in the Baroque era, and passages of demonic difficulty make Dall’Abaco’s Sonata a fiendish test for even very fleet-fingered fiddlers. Noally rockets through the Presto e spiccato movement as though the neck of his violin were covered with thorns. Perfectly judging its un poco vivace tempo, he offers a reading of the Passagaglio that both bustles with the music’s innate power and maintains the courtly sophistication of the dance. This is also true of Noally’s presentation of the allegro assai Giga: ribaldry and romance join hands in the wondrous whirlwind of sound that jigs from Noally’s violin.

Regrettably still known to many modern listeners for a popular piece that he did not write rather than for his own high-quality compositions, Tomaso Albinoni is represented on Venezia 1700 by his 1708 Sonata in G minor for violin and continuo (Opus 4, No. 5). A work of inventiveness not unworthy of comparison with the innovations of Bach and Telemann, the Sonata receives from Noally and Les Accents a performance of tremendous concentration and pinpoint accuracy. Utilizing alternating slow and fast movements, Albinoni created a sonata that exhibits comprehensive knowledge of both the musical forms of his age and their artistic possibilities. Noally imbues the first Adagio with the aura of an operatic prelude. The Allegro that follows brims with vitality that inspires the soloist and his continuo colleagues to playing of unbridled technical prowess. The second Adagio could be said to be the calm before the storm. As played by Les Accents, its sentiments seethe until released like a summer thunderstorm in the Presto that ends the Sonata. Noally’s playing flashes like lightning in the dark atmosphere of the minor-key music, and in every illuminating electrical discharge Albinoni’s creativity gleams.

Himself a violinist of wide-reaching fame, Antonio Vivaldi bequeathed to posterity some of the Eighteenth Century’s most enduringly popular music for violin. Igor Stravinsky’s infamous charge that Vivaldi essentially wrote the same concerto hundreds of times is a rare instance of shortsightedness on the part of the astute composer. To be sure, Vivaldi’s style of string writing was so consistent that virtually any of his pieces can be almost immediately identified as the work of Vivaldi, but their similarities do not obscure the wealth of diversity that his works contain. The Sonata in B♭ major for violin and continuo (RV 759) is typical of Vivaldi’s writing for the violin, its challenging passages for the solo instrument bolstered by supportive continuo, made doubly so in this performance by the marvelously cooperative playing by Les Accents. The subtleties of the Sonata’s sequence of dance movements that follow the opening largo Preludio, sumptuously bowed by Noally, are managed with finesse by both composer and violinist. The allegro Allemanda quickens the pulse, and the largo Sarabanda enraptures the heart. Noally and Les Accents relocate the allegro Corrente from the formal salons of France to the uninhibited piazze of Venice, highlighting the refinement of the Sonata’s internal architecture by executing every bar of the score with zeal.

Devised as set of increasingly-frenzied variations on the frequently-quoted Iberian folk tune ‘La Follia,’ Vivaldi’s 1705 Sonata in D minor for two violins and continuo (Opus 1, No. 12) was during its composer’s lifetime—and continues to be—one of the best-known musical products of the early Eighteenth Century. Sometimes judged by scholars to be inferior in ingenuity to Arcangelo Corelli’s work on the same subject, Vivaldi’s Sonata is nonetheless exhilarating when played well, and it is certainly played well in this performance. Even considering that each listener’s ears hear music with different goals and desires, it is difficult to imagine any listener objecting to recognition of this performance as the single most viscerally thrilling account of the Sonata ever recorded. The abandon with which Noally and Sottovia deliver their parts, attacking and parrying with the litheness of champion fencers, is breathtaking but always meticulously control. The ‘madness’ of their spontaneous-sounding recreations of Vivaldi’s quicksilver variations of the familiar theme mirror the well-planned turbulence of an El Greco canvas. So fresh is Les Accents’ performance of this music that this might be mistaken for a world-première recording. Only the finest artists can convince the listener as completely as Noally and Les Accents do with Venezia 1700 that the old adage applies as much to music as to people: age is only a number.

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Leaping across two centuries of musical history from Venice at the dawn of the Eighteenth Century to the last decades of the Nineteenth and first decades of the Twentieth Centuries transports the listener to the artistic environment of Polychrome, Alpha’s magical disc featuring young German violinist Tobias Feldmann and Moscow-born pianist Boris Kusnezow in edgy but polished performances of music by Ravel, Prokofiev, and Richard Strauss. With Feldmann coaxing sounds of rounded beauty from the 1769 instrument by Neapolitan maker Nicolò Gagliano at his disposal, there is nothing metallic about the music making on Polychrome. The collaboration between the young violinist and pianist evokes great artistic partnerships of past generations, not least the musical relationship of Henryk Szeryng and Ingrid Haebler that produced memorable recordings of Mozart and Beethoven sonatas. Like that of those notable forebears, the communication between Feldmann and Kusnezow extends far beyond correct pitches and rhythmic synchronicity, reaching emotional depths that identify these artists as interpreters of great promise—promise eloquently fulfilled by the performances on this disc. Like Noally, Feldmann enriches the violin’s present and future by affectionately leading the listener into lesser-known niches of the instrument’s past.

Often accurately but misleadingly identified as his Sonate posthume, Maurice Ravel’s 1897 Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor (M. 12) is a score with which the composer honed his little-used talent for writing chamber music. A fastidious worker whose compositional process was often slow, Ravel at any point in his career was capable of infusing his music with elements that looked to the past and the future at once. Through-composed, the Sonata presents unique challenges of timing and ensemble to violinist and pianist. The apparent joy and camaraderie with which Feldmann and Kusnezow meet these challenges is one of Polychrome’s principal delights. Not surprisingly in music by Ravel, the Sonata straddles a tonal fault line, treading upon shifting harmonic sands. Musicians who do not listen to one another can easily go wrong in this music, but Feldmann and Kusnezow prevail with the kind of unshakable concentration that is all the more commendable for being wholly inconspicuous. Feldmann ‘reads’ Ravel’s writing for the violin as though it were as natural as speech, and his performance of the Sonata radiates a confident synthesis of the indomitable sunniness of youth and the meaningful shadows of experience.

Sergey Prokofiev’s 1944 Violin Sonata No. 2 in D major (Opus 94A) should be in the repertories of far more violinists, particularly good ones; violinists of the ilk of Prokofiev’s friend and champion David Oistrakh, at whose instigation the composer, living in virtual exile in Perm, metamorphosed a flute sonata written in 1942 into the present Sonata for violin. Prokofiev’s music can be as prickly as Ravel’s, but Feldmann and Kusnezow dig into this Sonata without hesitation, fully prepared to brave its snares. In the opening Moderato movement, the Classically-conceived discourse between violin and piano is conducted in tones of rapt intensity, the moods of the music flowing from the musicians’ fingers to the listener’s psyche. The breathless Scherzo introduces an ambivalence that complicates interpretation of the music. First impressions can be deceptive in Prokofiev’s music, but Feldmann and Kusnezow do not beleaguer their performance of the Sonata with self-righteous aural treatises on the metaphysical properties of the music. They play the Scherzo with a sense of fun that dispels the mists of doubt that enshroud the music. There is no doubt about the sincerity of the men’s respect for the music’s elegant solemnity, perhaps a reflection on the turmoil of the time in which the piece was written, in the Andante movement. The Allegro con brio finale fizzes with virtuosic flights of fancy for the violin and tricky passages for the piano. This is some of Prokofiev’s most extroverted, barnstorming music, and Feldmann and Kusnezow respond with dazzling virtuosity. Charlie Daniels and his fiendish fiddling intimated that ‘the devil went down to Georgia’: Feldmann and Prokofiev suggest that the infernal one had a musical hideout in the Urals, too.

Composed in 1887, Richard Strauss’s Violin Sonata in E♭ major (Opus 18/TrV 151) is, like Ravel’s Sonate posthume, an early work, a product of its creator’s early twenties, but hallmarks of Strauss the composer of Salome, Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, and Die Frau ohne Schatten are already present, especially in the unique melodic voice that emerges from the Sonata. The first movement, marked Allegro ma non troppo, inhabits the worlds of Strauss’s tone poems and early Lieder, and Feldmann and Kusnezow prove to be expert exponents of Strauss’s lush, late Romantic harmonies. The andante cantabile Improvisation is major Strauss on a minor scale: even at this early stage of his career, the wistfulness that reached its zenith in the Vier letzte Lieder was part of the composer’s artistic identity. Bringing to mind the long lines of ‘Befreit’ and ‘Zueignung,’ two of Strauss’s most beautiful and moving Lieder, the Improvisation is played by Feldmann and Kusnezow with the grace of a dove borne aloft by gentle breezes. Beginning at andante and transitioning to allegro, the Sonata’s finale is, like the closing movement of Prokofiev’s Sonata, a whirring banter between violin and piano. Feldmann and Kusnezow fire volleys of sound at one another with good-natured bellicosity, ending the Sonata with a pyrotechnics display that never threatens to outshine the pair’s glowing musicality.

The past century has witnessed a variety of trends in violin playing, ranging from the showmanship of Fritz Kreisler and sensitivity of Arthur Grumiaux to the stylistic versatility of Joshua Bell. At its core, though, the trend that has defined violin playing since the perfection of the instrument’s design is that of the pressure of a bow’s hair and human fingertips upon four strings and the reverberation of small wooden cylinders within a larger wooden torso. Almost anyone with patience can eventually accomplish the feat of making inoffensive sounds with a violin, but the production of pleasing sounds is not what makes a violinist’s work valuable. A violinist’s artistic merit is—or should be—determined by his sounds’ collective capacity to serve composers and listeners as a mediator, a catalyst for actions and reactions. By this measure, the actions of Thibault Noally and Tobias Feldmann and the reactions of their colleagues on Venezia 1700 and Polychrome qualify them as violinists with historically-significant virtues.

13 February 2017

CD REVIEW: Antonio Salieri — LA SCUOLA DE’ GELOSI (F. Lombardi Mazzulli, E. D’Aguanno, R. Mameli, F. Sacchi, M. Storti, F. Götz, P. Vogel; deutsche harmonia mundi 88985332282)

IN REVIEW: Antonio Salieri - LA SCUOLA DE' GELOSI (deutsche harmonia mundi 88985332282)ANTONIO SALIERI (1750 – 1825): La scuola de’ gelosiFrancesca Lombardi Mazzulli (Contessa), Emanuele D’Aguanno (Conte), Roberta Mameli (Ernestina), Federico Sacchi (Blasio), Milena Storti (Carlotta), Florian Götz (Lumaca), Patrick Vogel (Tenente); l’arte del mondo; Werner Ehrhardt, conductor [Recorded ‘live’ during concert performances in Erholungshaus Leverkusen, Leverkusen, Germany, 17 – 20 December 2015; deutsche harmonia mundi 88985332282; 3 CDs, 161:14; Available from Amazon (USA), jpc (Germany), Presto Classical (UK), and major music retailers]

Before the dawning of the age of televised talent searches and real-time competitions, artists’ paths to recognition often wound through desolate landscapes of obscurity and indifference. An aspiring composer born in Legnago in the Veneto in 1750 did not have the luxury of posting samples of his work on Vimeo and YouTube and waiting for the world to watch and listen. For one precocious boy born in Legnago in 1750, the journey to widespread acclaim was arduous and even tragic but brief. Exposed by his violinist brother and his native town’s organist to the storied legacies of Giuseppe Tartini and Padre Martini, the young Antonio Salieri at the dawn of adolescence was first orphaned and then passed from the care of a Padovani friar to a Venetian aristocrat. Adopted as a foster son and disciple by composer Florian Leopold Gassmann, Salieri found himself at the age of fifteen in the musical Mecca of Habsburg Europe, Vienna, where his work would be received with enthusiasm for a half-century. It was therefore as a well-established, widely-esteemed master of Italian-influenced Viennese Classicism that Salieri composed one of his finest scores, La scuola de’ gelosi, for the 1778 Venetian Carnevale. The opera’s première in Teatro San Moisè on 27 December 1778, was one of the most complete successes of the first half of Salieri’s life, a triumph eventually repeated throughout Europe. It is a triumph recreated on l’arte del mondo’s deutsche harmonia mundi traversal of the score. Recorded during concert performances in Erholungshaus Leverkusen, this Scuola de’ gelosi is indeed educational. So much effort has been expended in the past two centuries on cataloging the ways in which Salieri was not Mozart that far too little attention has been granted to the extraordinary ways in which he was Salieri. La scuola de’ gelosi represents Salieri at his best, and this recording of the opera enables Twenty-First-Century listeners to establish or deepen a meaningful acquaintance not with the malevolent, mendacious Salieri of myth but with the real Salieri and one of the most appealing products of his prodigious talents.

A setting of a witty libretto by Caterino Mazzolà, court poet at Dresden and most known to modern observers for having adapted Metastasio’s text of La clemenza di Tito for Mozart, La scuola de’ gelosi must have seemed the zenith of modernity to Venetian audiences in 1778—and perhaps even more so to the Viennese, accustomed to the formalities of Maria Theresa’s reign, when the opera was first performed in the Habsburg capital in 1783. As played by l’arte del mondo and conducted by Werner Ehrhardt, the score retains a delightful ability to surprise. It cannot be claimed that Salieri was consistently Mozart’s equal as an orchestrator or a composer of operatic ensembles, but his work merits considerably greater respect than that afforded a mere craftsman. Conducting with a sure grasp of the opera’s carefully-planned rhythmic flow, Ehrhardt provides a solidly musical foundation upon which the many virtues of Salieri’s score are subsequently built. No composer active in the second half of the Eighteenth Century possessed theatrical flair superior to Mozart’s, but this performance of La scuola de’ gelosi confirms that the miraculous Salzburger could and undoubtedly did learn much from his Italian colleague. Much of the writing for orchestra in La scuola de’ gelosi recalls the finest efforts of both Haydns and the mature Mozart, and l’arte del mondo’s instrumentalists play every bar of their parts with concentration and virtuosity. Massimiliano Toni’s fortepiano continuo is cleverly enlivened with allusions to Mozart’s famous alla Turca Piano Sonata in A major (K. 331), perhaps composed as early as 1778 but most plausibly in 1783 and not published until 1784, contemporaneous with the first Vienna production of La scuola de’ gelosi. Propelled by this musical current, the performance engagingly circumnavigates Salieri’s score, providing the listener with alluring vistas of every musical port of call. Energetically paced by Ehrhardt and effervescently played by l’arte del mondo, this performance not only delights but also both legitimizes the esteem that Salieri enjoyed among his contemporaries and confirms the breadth of the influence that his music exerted on his own and future generations.

One of the unexpected surprises that La scuola de’ gelosi has in store for listeners is the gift for vivid musical characterization that the opera discloses. As in most aspects of his artistry, Salieri’s skill at creating musical portraiture is commonly deemed secondary to Mozart’s, but the denizens of La scuola de’ gelosi are worthy comrades of the finest of Mozart’s operatic personages. Each of the rôles in La scuola de’ gelosi possesses unique charms, and the wonderfully entertaining music for il Tenente is sung with keen intuition by tenor Patrick Vogel. Salieri’s ensemble writing in the Act One terzetto in which il Tenente spars with the Contessa and Conte makes no demands on the singer that are not well within Vogel’s technical compass, and he launches ‘La guerra s’incomincia, che diavolo ho da far?’ with unaffected humor. He then sings the aria ‘Ah, non siate ognor sì facili’ with vocal and dramatic immediacy. In Act Two, Vogel voices il Tenente’s aria ‘Chi vuol nella femmina trovar fedeltà’ brilliantly, the voice shimmering with a broad spectrum of colors. Singing with great flair, Vogel is always present in the drama, reveling in the bounty of Salieri’s musical ingenuity and establishing himself as a first-rate exponent of the composer’s idiom.

Bumbling charismatically without excessive bluster or buffoonery, baritone Florian Götz graces this performance of La scuola de’ gelosi with an ebullient, genuinely funny Lumaca. The character’s aria in Act One, ‘Una donna che affetto non sente,’ is sung with panache and expert comedic timing, every syllable of the text enunciated with obvious knowledge of both its literal meaning and its implications within the opera’s cumulative context. In Act Two, Götz delivers the aria ‘Lumaca, giudizio! Amor è un bel vizio’ with an ideal blend of poetry and pomposity. In his every appearance, the baritone’s vocal acting is no less astute in recitatives and ensembles than in arias. The range of Lumaca’s music poses few challenges for Götz, but a few instances of roughness and compromised intonation in his singing serve as reminders that, despite the ease with which he inhabits the rôle, this is not easy music.

Responding spiritedly to Götz’s Lumaca, mezzo-soprano Milena Storti is a fount of period-appropriate musical effervescence as the quick-thinking Carlotta. Bringing to Salieri’s music a voice of excellent quality over which she wields near-perfect control, Storti is a gifted artist whose restrained approach to comedy is so much more enjoyable than the efforts of singers who view comic rôles as a license to overdo buffo silliness. Though its sentiments are anything but silly, Storti maintains an entrancing lightness in Carlotta’s Act One aria ‘Gelosia d’amore è figlia,’ judiciously allowing the text to do the heavy lifting of fulfilling both the aria’s straightforward and its ironic purposes. The mezzo-soprano’s account of ‘Il cor nel seno balzar mi sento’ in Act Two pulses with honest emotion, the singer finding the character’s heart beating within the music and exposing it to the listener. As portrayed by Storti, Carlotta is no Carmen in Classical garb, hiding from Don José amidst minuets and periwigs. With a voice as attractive as her mind is sharp, Storti’s Carlotta is a lady of class and cunning who sings accordingly.

The Blasio of bass Federico Sacchi is a mercurial, silver-tongued fellow with much in common with Mozart’s Figaro and Don Alfonso. When he bellows, he does so with authority that not even the opera’s aristocratic couple can ignore, but there is sweetness in him, too—a trait used by Sacchi to give Blasio a nucleus of humanity that ultimately proves quite touching. Bursting into the Act One Introduzione with a statement of ‘Zitto! Alcun sentir mi parve’ that immediately captures both the listener’s and the other characters’ attention, Sacchi’s voice vaults through the music. The duettino with Ernestina draws from him a deluge of flawlessly-inflected comic singing, the sonorous mock-seriousness of his ‘Al gran Can di Tartaria’ fruitfully tapping the vein of zaniness in the score. Sacchi sings Blasio’s aria ‘Fate buona compagnia, trattenete il signor Conte’ strongly, and he articulates ‘Con mille smanie al core attendo qui mia moglie’ in the rollicking Act One finale—an ensemble that surely served as a model for similar scenes in Mozart’s mature operas—with hilariously overwrought intensity. Blasio’s aria in Act Two, ‘Adagio...allor potrei...è moglie, io son marito,’ is a gift to a talented basso buffo, a piece that presages Rossini’s writing for the Fach. Sacchi performs the aria with the brio of an accomplished Don Magnifico or Mustafà. Singers all too often succumb to the lure of resorting to over-emoting in comic rôles, exploiting rather than exploring the music, but in this performance Sacchi actually sings Blasio’s music; and very well, moreover, a few bumpy bars detracting nothing from his winsome portrayal.

The wily Ernestina emerges with abundant charm and musical finesse from the mind and throat of soprano Roberta Mameli, a singer whose expertise in Baroque and early Classical repertories render her an exceptionally well-qualified applicant to Salieri’s Scuola. From her first line of recitative, Mameli handles Salieri’s music with dexterity and dulcet tone. In the Act One duettino with Blasio, her Ernestina utters ‘Perdonate: amor è audace’ with beguiling demureness, and the joy that her singing of the aria ‘Se verrete a me vicino con le belle, con le buone’ evinces is infectious. Likewise, Mameli voices ‘Queste donne sussiegate che disprezzano gli amanti’ in Act Two with passion and precision. Musically and dramatically, the apogee of her performance is her account of Ernestina’s Act Two cavatina, ‘Cattivo sego, sposine amabili,’ one of the finest numbers in the score. In every scene in which Ernestina appears, however, Mameli delves deeply into the character’s motivations, seeking in the text causes for Salieri’s musical effects. Ever a wise singer who makes well-informed decisions about repertory, Mameli finds in Ernestina a rôle that might have been composed specially for her and sings her with insightful focus.

Taking no prisoners in his good-natured but uncompromising siege on the Count’s music, tenor Emanuele D’Aguanno gives unexpected depth and importance to a character who could all too easily be played as an arrogant, dim-witted fop. A noted master of bel canto, D’Aguanno traces the elegant line of the Conte’s Act One cavatina, ‘A me par che il mondo sia di ragazze d’ogni sorte,’ with natural grace. In the terzetto with the Contessa and il Tenente, the tenor’s voicing of ‘Eh via, saggia Penelope, non siate sì feroce’ emits a charge of satirical electricity: one can almost see the Conte rolling his eyes in bemused annoyance. In the aria ‘Chi può vedere oppresso un idolo d’amor,’ D’Aguanno’s technical prowess is put to use with astonishing fluidity. Here, too, in music through which otherwise capable singers might stammer, D’Aguanno’s bel canto training yields a performance of wondrous confidence. This alone heightens the nobility of the singer’s portrayal of the Conte. Joining with his Contessa in the Act Two duettino, this Conte delivers ‘Quel visino è da ritratto’ with the futile virility of a wasp trapped in honey. The aria ‘Più sereni quegli occhi volgete’ is sung with unapologetic romanticism, D’Aguanno again making magic with his negotiation of the vocal line. D’Aguanno is an expressive, communicative singer who deserves greater global recognition, and his performance on this recording is a compelling exhibition of his abilities.

A spiritual kinswoman of Beaumarchais’s, Mozart’s, and Rossini’s Rosina, Mazzolà’s and Salieri’s Contessa is a figure of intelligence and integrity. There is never any doubt that she is the headmistress of La scuola de’ gelosi, her emotional journey shaping the course of the opera in ways that clearly stoked Salieri’s imagination. Depicting the Contessa as an evocatively feminine force with an iron core, soprano Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli reigns over this performance, her singing radiantly beautiful in cantilena and excitingly fleet in fiorature. Her rapt phrasing of the Act One cavatina ‘Ah, non è ver che in seno amor germogli amore’ is sustained with superb breath control, and she dispatches ‘Ridete pur, ridete, caro il mio bel Narciso’ in the terzetto with the Conte and il Tenente with a disarming giggle in the voice. All traces of mirth are suppressed in her heated performance of the aria ‘Gelosia, dispetto e sdegno lacerando il cor mi vanno,’ the contrasts among her pure vowels and sharp but unexaggerated consonants lifting the text off of the page and transforming it into audible thought. The Act Two duettino with the Conte discloses a more minxish facet of the Contessa’s personality, and the soprano rises to the occasion with an understated ‘Siete amabile e giocondo, ogni bella a voi l’attesta’ in which an almost ferocious competitiveness undulates beyond the serene façade. In the ingenious quintetto with the Conte, Blasio, Ernestina, and il Tenente, Lombardi Mazzulli leads her colleagues in a fabulous display of intricate vocal interplay, her voice always distinguishable from Mameli’s and shimmering with a golden hue at the top of the stave. The aria ‘Ah, sia già de’ miei sospiri sazio il fato e sazio il Ciel’ is sung with heart-warming lyricism that indelibly embodies the singer’s concept of her rôle. Impressive as Lombardi Mazzulli’s undaunted meeting of the punishing demands of the Contessa’s florid music invariably is, she impresses most with the untarnished beauty of her vocalism and the sincerity of her acting. In opera, simplicity is rarely the easiest but is often the best choice. For Lombardi Mazzulli, the simplicity of learning music and singing it as its composer intended it to be sung is not a choice but an organic component of her technique. There is no doubt that, when composing La scuola de’ gelosi, Salieri’s sympathies were dominated by the Contessa. When hearing this performance of the opera, Lombardi Mazzulli’s singing ensures that the Contessa wins listeners’ affection just as handily.

In the four-century history of opera, there have been a handful of composers whose work steered the genre’s development from its earliest Italian roots to the complex, many-branched organism that today spreads its canopy over the musical topography. Among those branches, composers with vastly different qualifications have created scores that meandered in and out of the international repertory. A particular wonder of the first seventeen years of the new century is the reappraisal that has been granted to a number of scores that in their infancy were rightly or wrongly deemed inadequate or insignificant. Still awaiting rediscovery are many operas that were welcomed with enthusiasm when first performed but have subsequently been supplanted by pieces that achieved greater popularity. In many cases, first impressions are as important in opera as on any of life’s other stages: a forgotten opera may have only one opportunity to plead its case before the discerning jury of today’s listeners. With this recording, distinguished by fantastic performances by cast, conductor, and orchestra, Antonio Salieri’s La scuola de’ gelosi makes an argument that could not fail to persuade even the most prejudiced juror to acquit the score of charges of musical inferiority. It is tempting to suggest that, without Le nozze di Figaro and Così fan tutte, La scuola de’ gelosi might never have been forced from its place of prominence among the most revered operas from the second half of the Eighteenth Century, but one of the most profound lessons imparted by this school is that, without La scuola de’ gelosi, Le nozze di Figaro and Così fan tutte may never have reached the stage.