Scottish Chamber Orchestra - Mozart: Opera Arias & Overtures - McAlister Matheson Music
This is a very classy disc, from the opening track (explosive orchestral playing from the SCO in the overture to Le nozze di Figaro) to the end, where soprano Elizabeth Watts gives a heart-wrenching portrayal of Fiordiligi in the aria Per pietà from Così fan tutte.
This is no random compilation. The listener is treated to six overtures from Mozart operas (Figaro, Idomeneo, Don Giovanni, La clemenza di Tito, La finta giardinera and Così), each followed by an aria (two in the case of Don Giovanni). Each overture sets the musical scene so that the aria is heard in an appropriate musical context - an excellent approach given the disparities in their compositional style and atmosphere.
Indeed, one of the many joys of this disc is the savouring of Mozart's development, for example in the final two selections, where his youthful handling of repetition in La finta giardiniera, composed when he was eighteen, contrasts starkly with his manipulation of words and music to great dramatic effect fourteen years later in Così.
Elizabeth Watts' singing throughout is sublime. She has handled her career very sensibly since winning the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition in 2007, and the fruits of this approach are evident in her rock-solid technique and unblemished tone. As Susanna in Deh vieni non tardar from Figaro she sings with noble tranquillity, creating an impression of being intoxicated with love; as Ilia in Idomeneo her hatred of the victorious Cretan king has her spitting with fury before she turns to an anguished examination of her growing love for his son Idamante. Hearing this glorious music, it is difficult to believe it remained unperformed in Britain until a 1934 production in Glasgow.
Zerlina's aria Vedrai, carino from Don Giovanni again shows off Watts' flair for beautiful phrasing as well as her pearlescent, unforced top notes. The preceding Batti, batti is sung persuasively, with a beautifully played cello obbligato, although the aria's positioning immediately after the overture jarred slightly.
The disc's highlight is undoubtedly the recitative and aria from Così. Here Watts imbues the music with an infinite array of emotions, while technically she is completely assured, the long slow vocal leaps displaying a seamless vocal range that is as vibrant at the lower end as it is at the top.
I find something fresh in these seductive performances each time I hear them. This is another winner for Linn and the SCO.