Edita Gruberova – Mozart Concert Arias
Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor
This is one of those albums where the partnership of two outstanding performers as Edita Gruberova and Nikolaus Harnoncourt leads to one of the most perfect outcomes in the recording history.
This a celebrated live recording of Mozart concert arias, made in 1991 in Graz. It collects eight of the concert arias Mozart wrote for his friends, both as gifts or as alternative arias to sing in operas written by other composers. Though this arbitrary substitution seems an aberration now, it was customary at the time to replace unsuitable pieces with others to give prominence to the skills of which the singers were so proud.
As it is well known, Mozart had a flair for high notes and agility and his concert arias include demanding but – if finely performed as in the present case – effective passages.
Edita Gruberova: a Flair for Virtuosity
Soprano Edita Gruberova is one of the leading coloratura sopranos of her generation and her performances of Mozart roles received unanimous acclaim. Her recordings of the concert arias (the present one as well as the one she recorded with György Fischer and with Leopold Hager) are milestones of this repertoire. Though other sopranos almost equal her, none surpassed Gruberova’s skills yet.
Gruberova’s musicianship is flawless. Her voice is clear and extremely flexible. To the precision of her intonation, which is extraordinary in the assurance of her – now caressing, now piercing – high notes, and to her timbral homogeneity, she adds her crisp coloratura, which she sings with clearness and energy. Her roulades and vocal acrobatics in arias as Ah non sai qual pena sia and Ah se in ciel benign stelle are spectacular displays of virtuosity. The long arch of sound she creates thanks to her perfect breath control gives the impression of endless singing and wonderfully joins the first and the second section of No, che non sei capace.
Her diction is precise and clear and makes her define the personality of her characters. She does not content herself only with “stereotyped” feelings as the sadness of a desperate lover, but she constantly finds subtler nuances to express what she wants. The accents she chooses, the expressions (listen to the nuances of the reiterated “come amante appassionato” – “as a passionate lover” – in Voi avete un cor fedele, for example) are always appropriate and meaningful.
Nobody else could have accompanied Gruberova but Nikolaus Harnoncourt. The conductor, who has to his credit as many recordings of Mozart’s works as Gruberova, makes his presence felt in the colouring of the musical phrases. Sometimes his tempos may seem too slow, as in Voi avete un cor fedele, but this choice explains itself as Gruberova has the time to develop not only the virtuosic side of her heroine, but also the psychological one. Also, the colours he draws from the Chamber Orchestra of Europe do not reveal only his consummate skill, but also his profound insight.
Mozart Concert Arias: a Deep Reading
And yet, virtuosity is only the most obvious part of this recording. Listening to Gruberova easy coloratura, to Harnoncourt’s accompaniment and especially to the spontaneity and freshness of their reading led me to make a further consideration after a while.
It almost seems that the virtuosity of Mozart concert arias is taken for granted, as if this feature was, so to speak, already established, reached and surpassed in the two performers’ minds. It seems as if they have concerted between them «We are good, indeed. Now, let’s see if we can do something more». They seem to transcend their own skill and focus on the slightest details, reflecting on the most complex aspects of the arias. They seem to look for the innermost reason of each aria and to bring it to light through their inexhaustible chiselling, which in the end is a search for the true meaning of the aria itself and for the way to reveal it to the audience. Maybe this profundity is the reason why this recording is still so perfect and valuable thirty years after its release.