Symphony No. 1 K.16
Piano Concerto No. 23 K.488
Symphony No. 41 K.551, The Jupiter

Aparte AP307
Full price


Lisette Oropressa  Soprano
Joyce DiDonato  Mezzo-soprano
Paul-Antoine Benos-Djian  Countertenor
Michael Spyres  Tenor
Massimo Lombardi Tenor
John Chest Baritone

Il Pomo d’Oro Orchestra & Choir
Maxim Emelyanychev  Fortepiano & Conductor

Erato 5054197177910
3 CDs
Full Price

The Review

The Mozart disc feels more like a concert than a CD programme but it is a very good one either way.

The idea is to sandwich one of the late piano concertos between the first and the last symphonies that Mozart wrote, so the story starts in Cecil Court in the heart of London’s West End in 1764, when he was eight, and ends 24 years later in Vienna. The concerto dates from two years earlier, the time when he was writing The Marriage of Figaro, 1786. The point of the concept is to show the stylistic journey travelled in between and it does, though it also shows that the child was exploring similar ideas all the way through. The only shame is that he stopped writing symphonies three years before he died.

This is the first volume in what is intended to be a complete series of the symphonies by these forces. Emylanychev, despite being remarkably young, is becoming a really enlightened leader of chamber size orchestras, whether on period or modern instruments – as he does with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Here with his pan European group (led by Zelfira Valova, who often led the European Union Baroque Orchestra) based in Italy, his Mozart is crisp, decisive and intelligently balanced. The tempi in the symphonies go against preconceptions in that he does not rush or over accent the music while making sure the rhythmic drive never falters. If anything he always veers towards the lyrical and contemplative rather than the aggressive. He does not try to make Mozart a pre-Romantic. There is energy but within an elegant frame. The use of the fortepiano gives the solo part in the concerto more immediacy than a modern instrument does, in fact I would have liked him to back up the solo line by adding it into the tutti passages more (as Andras Schiff often does in Haydn), so that the solo emerges from the orchestra rather than breaking into it. This is an impressive start to the series, however, and it will be enjoyable to watch it progress.

The second recent issue from him and his ensemble is absoutely first rate too. Handel’s late oratorio Theodora is only not called an opera because the composer reserved the term opera for his Italian settings. This is in English and its story, while Christian, is as dramatic as any of the subjects he drew on from classical literature: late Roman but Roman nonetheless. The casting in this recording is superb. DiDonato and Oropresa complement each other’s voices with natural skill, as does the countertenor,  Benos-Djian (Didymus), whose tone is manly enough to distinguish his sound from the others without having to fudge the impact of his high timbre.

Theodora (Oropresa) and Irene (DiDonato) are two determined characters that the sadist Roman governor Valens (John Chest) is unwise to take on. The singers present all their strengths but the oratorio is at its best in its slow sad arias and in them I found myself putting the music onto instant repeat. The singing by both sopranos is glorious. Chest and Michael Spyres (of whom I have written some less than fulsome reviews lately but don’t need to carp here) both rise to the same heights. The only contributors that do not shine are those in the choir. There are four voices to a part but the diction is too often indistinct while the sound lacks weight and power – thin stuff, which is a shame because Handel was very proud of his choral writing in Theodora. Luckily one can just lie back and relish DiDonato and Oropresa on their best form. The recorded sound on both sets is immediate and spacious – well judged for home listening.