Mozart. The Weber Sisters
Raphaël Pichon, conduction
Sabine Devieilhe’s album Mozart. The Weber Sisters tells two different but closely related stories. The first is the lifelong relationship between composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the four sister of the Weber family: Aloysia, the great love of his youth and a remarkable singer for whom he wrote some of his most beautiful and difficult arias; Constanze, who was to become Mozart’s wife; Josepha, described by Mozart as «a lazy, coarse, deceitful person» and the first interpreter of the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte; and finally Sophie, who assisted the dying composer in his last moments. Although only Aloysia and Josepha embarked on a musical career, all the four girls were trained in music by their father, Fridolin Weber, and therefore there cannot be a better way to celebrate them with an album entirely devoted to them.
This is not the first time that the famous relationship between Mozart and Webers inspired a recording, as others were already based on arias written by Mozart for Aloysia (I am thinking in particular of Cynthia Sieden’s marvellous though little known recording Arias for Aloysia Weber), but what is innovative here is to widen the horizon to pieces written for Aloysia’s other sisters or composed with them in mind to have a more complete overview of the musical connections between Mozart and the four sisters.
The second, glorious story of Mozart. The Weber Sisters concerns Sabine Devieilhe herself. I already had the occasion to praise the young and talented French soprano in one of the earliest reviews of this blog, centred on her debut album Rameau. Le Grand Théâtre de l’Amour and now I will praise her again for the achievement of this more recent album. In the present work, Devieilhe lets herself be guided by «the naturalness of the sentiment. To read between the noted and bring out the theatre in them, as if fulfilling the composer’s own written instruction – that is the chance for the interpreter. Through our encounter with the Weber sisters, these women and dedicatees who counted so much in his [Mozart’s] life, we have tried to sketch a portrait of Mozart in love».
The feeling of love is actually omnipresent in The Weber Sisters, not only in the texts and in the music, but it is an essential part of Devieilhe’s voice. Her pure and crystalline voice is so warm and expressive that it is easy for the soprano to describe to perfection every sweet and tender nuance. This is precisely the aspect that makes a deep impression on the listener from the very first note of Ah, vous dirais-je maman, the first vocal piece after the charming overture from Les petits riens, a lively piece finely performed by conductor Raphaël Pichon and the ensemble Pygmalion and that is the right introduction to Mozart’s colourful musical world.
As the next Dans un bois solitaire, Ah, vous dirai-je maman is not an aria written specifically for one of the Webers but it was composed by Mozart during the 1778 journey to Paris that separated him from his beloved Aloysia. Judging by the texts, it is easy to imagine that Mozart wrote these two arias with Aloysia in mind and it is for this reason that they have been included in the programme of The Weber Sisters. This was absolutely a right choice as Devieilhe performs Ah, vous dirais-je maman with grace and a lovely hint of irony and embellishes Dans un bois solitaire with heartfelt accents of sorrow for the rejected love.
Anyway, these two short arias are just a sample of what Devieilhe can do. They are pleasant but not dazzling pieces and the best is still to come. After the Adagio from the Musik for the Pantomime Pantalon and Colombine, The Weber Sisters presents four of famous soprano arias (Non so donde viene, Vorrei spiegarvi, o Dio, Popoli di Tessaglia and Nehmt meinen Dank) and it is from this point on that Devieilhe really reveals her prodigious vocal means. The pyrotechnic coloratura, the self-assurance of the agility, the elegant phrasing, together with a sincere rendition of the heroines’ feelings, assure incomparable depth and technical rigour to the four arias written for Aloysia.
The Weber Sisters is centred on love, of course, but not all the arias has love for their theme and the most noticeable exception is certainly Der hölle Rache, the second aria of the Queen of the Night from Die Zauberflöte. Devieilhe is convincing in the expression of the outburst of anger as she is in tenderer feelings. Next to self-confidence, a remarkable feature is her choice to sing the staccato notes pronouncing “e” instead of “a” (not arbitrarily as this choice has its origins in philological reasons), giving an idea of fury in a way clearer than usual.
Relaxed and milder feelings return in the Solfeggio in F major and in the Et incarnatus est, two pieces written for Mozart’s wife, Constanze. These two works seem to share the same, high inspiration. The Solfeggio was originally conceived as an exercise, but it has in the embryo stage the melody of the Christe eleison of the Great Mass in C minor, so it is not surprising that Devieilhe has decided to sing it as an anticipation of the Et incarnatus est, the long soprano piece written for the same Mass. In both works, Devieilhe’s vocalises are beautiful and always convey the idea that they are not merely ostentations of vocal virtuosity, but that something deeper and important is hidden behind them.
Sabine Devieilhe must be proud of her The Weber Sisters as this is an album that unequivocally reveals her bravura and that allows to think back to what these four Webers meant in Mozart’s live and music.