Sir Roger Norrington is best known for his historically informed performances of Baroque, Classical and Romantic music. On this album he turns his attention - and that of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra - to some of the most popular of Haydn's 104 symphonies. For Parisians prior to the French Revolution, Haydn's symphonies were seen as powerful, innovative works which demonstrated the composer's brilliance and invention. Here, the 30-strong ensemble - tightly drilled by Norrington - clearly demonstrate why they've achieved international importance. Sir Roger brings to these performances the expected solid historical scholarship, to give us a Haydn collection that is dazzling, charming and fascinating.
Among the major choral-orchestral works of the 19th century, Sir Roger Norrington and his former Orchestra, the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR, have tackled over the years, now finally comes Brahms' "German Requiem." one of the most beautiful and popular sacred music works in the repertoire. Brahms’ contemporaries, including his close friend Clara Schumann were moved with the score and were enthusiastic about it - and it has been a favorite with the general public ever since. Although Biblical texts are used, the piece is not in the standard church-liturgical tradition. It was Brahms‘personal response to "those who mourn"! The central idea of this masterpiece is the reality of human existence. It is precisely this „earthly character“ that Roger Norrington uses to shape his interpretation emphasizing the grave beautify of the music and not religious awe; in this, Norrington draws us close to the composer’s intentions. He is ably supported by soprano soloist Christina Landshamer, basso Florian Boesch, SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart and the NDR.
What a versatile artist Steven Isserlis is. Having made his name as a sympathetic interpreter of a wide variety of romantic and modern music, here he shows he can be just as persuasive in eighteenth-century repertoire. His stylistic awareness is evident in beautiful, elegant phrasing, selective use of vibrato and varied articulation, giving an expressive range that never conflicts with the music’s natural language. In the cello concertos he is helped by an extremely sensitive accompaniment, stressing the chamber musical aspects of Haydn’s pre-London orchestral writing. The soft, intimate sonority at 3'06'' in the first movement of the D major is a typical example. The Adagios are taken at a flowing speed, but Isserlis’s relaxed approach means they never sound hurried. The Allegro molto finale of the C major Concerto, on the other hand, sounds poised rather than the helter-skelter we often hear. In his understanding of the music, Isserlis is a long way ahead of Han-na Chang, whose version places the emphasis on fine, traditional-style cello playing. Mork’s vivacious, imaginative performances characterize the music very strongly, but my preference would be for Isserlis’s and Norrington’s lighter touch and greater refinement.
The Mozart Requiem is one of the best-known sacred works in the classical repertoire. It was the composer's last work, and he left it unfinished at his death. British conductor Roger Norrington, a pioneer of authentic performing practice, and an outstanding group of singers present Duncan Druce's version of the Requiem, based on the latest Mozart research, together with other moving choral works.
Mozart's opera seria tells of the King of Crete who is saved from a terrible storm by promising the gods that he sacrifice the first person he meets when reaching land, only to be greeted by his beloved son Idamante. In this Salzburg staging under Sir Roger Norrington Mexican tenor Ramón Vargas sings the title role, with Czech mezzo Magdalena Kozena giving an acclaimed performance as Idamante. Salzburg favourite Anja Harteros is the jealous Elettra, with Ekaterina Siurina as Idamante's beloved Ilia.
The gods of musical commerce are smiling on hot young countertenor Andreas Scholl: this is his second CD of opera arias to appear in less than a month. The previous disc, a selection of Handel arias on Harmonia Mundi, showcased Scholl's considerable strengths: subtle and sensitive phrasing, deft coloratura, and a pure, rounded tone with little of the disembodied hootiness that used to be accepted from countertenors. His first recital disc for Decca gives us a wider range of music (Hasse, Gluck, and Mozart as well as Handel) and a more complete representation of Scholl's singing–vices as well as virtues. Among the former are his top notes (sometimes squealy or poorly tuned) and a Joan Sutherland-like combination of beautiful sound with indistinct diction and lack of temperament. This is particularly damaging in the laments from Rodelinda and Giulio Cesare, which come across as mere pleasant pastorales; the famous "Che farò?" from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice sounds self-satisfied rather than bereft. (To be fair, Roger Norrington's jaunty tempos deserve much of the blame for this.) Scholl also aspirates his coloratura, which will bother some listeners more than others. On the other hand, "Oh, Lord, whose mercies numberless" from Handel's Saul is radiant, and the two arias from early Mozart operas are thrilling. In the end, the disc gives a fair, well-rounded picture of an important young singer. (Matthew Westphal)