Mozart: Opera Arias & Overtures (SACD review)

Elizabeth Watts, soprano; Christian Baldini, Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Linn Records CKD 460.

As we have come to expect from Linn Records, every new release is a welcome pleasure. This album of Mozart arias and overtures is no exception, especially as the performers do so well and the recording sounds so good.

However, most recordings these days seem to need something beyond good performances and good sound, so the added attraction here is the choice of material. Not content with merely providing an arbitrary selection of Mozart arias and overtures, Maestro Christian Baldini, soprano Elizabeth Watts, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra have chosen to give us one or two arias and the overture from each of six Mozart operas. Thus, the program gives us a better idea of the flavor of the operas represented than just some random assortment of things.

Here's a rundown of the program:
  1. Le nozze di Figaro: Overture
  2. "Giunse alfin - Deh vieni non tardar"
  3. Idomeneo: Overture
  4. "Quanti mi siete intorno - Padre, germani, addio!"
  5. Don Giovanni: Overture
  6. "Batti, batti"
  7. "Vedrai, carino"
  8. La clemenza di Tito: Overture
  9. "S'altro che lacrime"
10. La finta giardiniera: Overture
11. "Appena mi vedon"
12. Così fan tutte: Overture
13. "Ei parte - Per pietà"

There is plenty of zest, spunk, in Maestro Baldini's overture readings, although I'm not he captures all of Mozart's charm or drama along the way. Things seem to zip along merrily enough yet without quite the expansiveness that might have made the music even more delightful (or in the case of Don Giovanni, more melodramatic). Moreover, Baldini appears to get quicker as he moves from one overture to the next, the final selections a touch more taxing than they are exuberant. Still, these are quite exciting interpretations, and one cannot deny the conductor's energy and enthusiasm.

Elizabeth Watts
On the other hand, Baldini and soprano Elizabeth Watts handle the arias exquisitely. Ms. Watts possesses a fine, expressive voice, and she isn't shy about using it to its fullest extent, from softest and gentlest to loudest and most-explosive expressions.

I also loved the precision and poise of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, who never fail to impress me with their devotion to the music. They appear to respond to conductor Baldini's every direction.

Producer and recording engineer Philip Hobbs made the album at Usher Hall, Edinburgh, UK in June 2013. He recorded it for hybrid SACD playback, meaning that if you own an SACD player, you can listen either in SACD multichannel or SACD two-channel, and if you have a regular CD player, you can listen in standard two-channel stereo. I listened in two-channel SACD stereo using a Sony SACD player.

There is a good sense of depth to the sound, noticeable from the opening bell. There's also a strong dynamic range and punch to the music, which lend to the album's overall lifelike quality. But you knew that going in, given that it's a Linn recording. The midrange sounds nicely detailed without being bright or hard; the highs show a reasonable sparkle; and the lows are commendably solid. A small degree of hall ambience adds to the illusion of reality.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa