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Hogwood and Solti plumb Mozart's delights and despairs

Mozart. Academy of Ancient Music,
conducted by Christopher Hogwood.
London Records.

Mozart. Vienna Philharmonic,
conducted by Sir Georg Solti.
London Records
Rossini Heroines
London Records.

By Jonathan Richmond
Advisory Board

It might have otherwise taken a special effort to grab my British stiff upper lip off the shelf and write a CD review after the theft from my basement office of my 300 CDs-to-nerd-by, but the latest offering from Christopher Hogwood is of such delight as to require no encouragement to sing its praises in print.

This is a recording to be prescribed by any psychiatric practice anxious to brighten its patient's lives, and without any side effects. Hogwood's new version of Mozart's Seraglio is all sun; he makes the music smile, and anyone listening cannot escape being enraptured too.

The orchestra, the Academy of Ancient Music, is particularly nimble in this recording; it sounds as if the musicians are all having a good time, and this shows up in the music: There is something impish in every note. Woodwinds never cease in their delicious pranks, and the blend of instrumental sounds is stunning. Tempi are brisk, as per the "authentic" movement style, but not overly so. The tempi chosen help speed the action along, and make it compelling.

A fortepiano is used for continuo, introducing a surprising but illuminating element that tickles the ear and adds color to the performance. Hogwood includes a recently discovered Marcia, recorded here for the first time. Light and witty, it is played to hilarious effect just before the cacophonous first entry of the chorus, come to announce the arrival of the Pasha Selim.

Singing is uniformly youthful and euphoric. Marianne Hirsti is all sweetness as Blonde, and her Durch ZŠrtlichkeit und Schmeicheln is pure pleasure for the ear. Welche Wonne, welche Lust, bounces along with happiness, adrenal strings, and daring winds adding delicious color to the brilliance of Hirsti's singing.

Uwe Heilmann presents a crisply-sung but dreamily amorous Belmonte of great sincerity. The aria, O wie Šngstlich, o wie feurig, for example, is alive with desire. Lynne Dawson's Konstanze is prettily sung, and with much energy. It is hard, however, to see that "grief is resting in my breast" in the aria Ach, ich liebte, for example, when it is given the sort of chirpy treatment Dawson provides.

The mournful Traurigkeit ward mir zum Lose is sung with feeling, however, with elements of pain penetrating through. Nobody could argue with the beauty of Dawson's singing here.

Wilfred Gahmlich sings Pedrillo's part with eloquence as well as humor: Frisch zum Kampfe! Frisch zum Streite! is delivered with a strong -- and noble -- sense of purpose.

Even the big baddie of the piece -- Osmin -- is brightly sung, by Gunther Von Kannen. His singing is suspenseful and colorfully shaped, but it's hard to believe Osmin's the rotter he's reputed to be. He really offers to punch Belmonte and Pedrillo with far too much charm!

The recording has a bright, forward sound and a natural balance. It is sure to be played again and again by anyone fortunate enough to acquire it.

Also new from London Records is a recording of Mozart's Requiem, performed live in Vienna by the Vienna Philharmonic to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Mozart's death. In many ways this is a moving recording, and delivers a spirit of repose, but it doesn't offer the greatest clarity of either choral singing or orchestral performance. It also includes readings of religious liturgy not a part of the musical performance, which some will find disruptive. Try John Eliot Gardiner's performance with the English Baroque Soloists on Philips for the ultimate Requiem experience, musical, religious, or otherwise.

Cecilia Bartoli is part of the Solti Requiem recording, but she is displayed to better effect in her latest solo CD, entitled "Rossini Heroines." Performing a series of rarities, her voice is as tantalizing as ever, lending character and drive to each syllable. Her virtuosity seems to come very easily. Unlike so many other "virtuoso" singers, however, her acrobatics are not at the expense of the music -- rather they inflect it with color and life. The Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice are also in top form. This recording comes highly recommended.