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CD Feature/ Bruno Weil & Capella Coloniensis: "Mozart - Demofoonte"

img  Tobias
When news about this disc slowly percolated through the distribution channels of the Internet, Mozart fans were enraged: How could it be, they demanded to know, that an opera of this quality and proportions could have evaded every single scholar, every historian, professor and expert on the subject? In short: Why on earth had this work been withheld from them for more than 200 years?

The answer to their incited clamours is dead-pan simple: Because Demofoonte is not a Mozart opera in the true meaning of the word. Just like most of his colleagues (some of which were only recently featured on ARTS’ miraculous and revealing “Venetian Composers in Guatemala and Bolivia” disc), Mozart fell in love with Pietro Metastasio’s libretto and set out to use it for his compositions. While no other text would inspire him more in quantitative terms, he could never actually make up his mind about fusing these pieces into a single, coherent, evening-scale work.

But you can always dream, can’t you? And Sabine Rademacher must surely have lost some sleep over her fantasy of an epic opera based on the disjointed arias Mozart had written on the subject, glued together by instrumental compositions from the same time and completed by a colourful narrative structure. She wrote a German libretto for “Demofoonte”, taking the perspective of the story’s hero, legendary king of Thrace. Spoken by german actor Matthias Habich in an adjuratory, ominous and foreboding tone, her words carve out a landscape in time, filled with princes, princesses, love, hate, carelessly spoken oaths and the merciless laws of the elders.

In combination with some carefully selected snippets from symphonies and cassations thrown in for good measure, the result comes across as an intense crossbreed between monumental chamber music, opera and radio play. There are, by default, no thematic threads to connect the seperate parts of “Demofoonte”, but then again, the work’s creative freedom has only gained from this: Some of Mozart’s most elative and carefree compositions (such as the opening Symphony No. 10), for example, are counterpointed by the dramatic, Vivaldi-style minor moods of the Symphony a minor, which premonitiously introduces the second act.

Quickly, a rhythm of interludes, arias and plot establishes itself. The most remarkable feat about the disc at hand, therefore, must surely be that it manages to keep things interesting enough until the very end without once letting go or varying this concept. Towards the end, the instrumental passages increasingly get the upper hand, resulting in an almost meditative end of almost a quarter of an hour. In fact, the entire second disc contains only two vocal pieces, almost casually sandwiched in between the lucid orchestral powertrip realised in a spirited and undaunting fashion by the Capella Coloniensis.

And yet, the thematic pull of the arias is still very much the artistic spine of this fragmented opera. This impressions ows a lot to the performances of the line-up involved in this production. South Korean Sunhae Im balances between hope, despair, strength and vulnerability on “In te spero o sposo amato”, Eleonore Marguerre, taking on the role of Dimofoonte’s supposed son Timante in a game of ingenious gender switching, gradually glides into disaster, while Netta Or, as Phrygian princess Cresua, laughs in the face of Timante’s younger and foolishly-in-love brother Cherinto on “Non curo l’affetto”.

I must confess that few classical recordings over the past few months have managed to draw me in as much as this selection, performed live at the Tonhalle Düsseldorf in May of last year. On some occasions, Cologne-based national broadcaster WDR have made clever use of dynamic effects, with the orchestra dropping into the background and Habich’s voice majestically and threedimensionally lingering on top, as though he were wandering through a landscape of sound and music. On the web, too, the initial rage has subsided, sublimating into something much stronger: Admiration.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: ARTS Music

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