MOZART: Complete Operas = Le nozze di Figaro; Don Giovanni; Cosí fan tutte; Die Zauberflöte – Var. soloists & orch./Otto Klemperer – Warner Classics (11 CDs)

by | Dec 30, 2013 | Classical Reissue Reviews

MOZART: Complete Operas = Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492; Don Giovanni, K. 527; Cosí fan tutte, K. 588; Die Zauberflöte K. 620 – Luigi Alva/ Gabriel Bacquier/ Teresa Berganza/ Walter Berry/ Geraint Evans/ Mirella Freni/ Nicolai Ghiaurov/ Gundula Janowitz/ Christa Ludwig/ Yvonne Minton/ Lucia Popp/ Margaret Price/ Elisabeth Schwarzkopf/ Kiri Te Kanawa/ Gerhard Unger/ Claire Watson & others/ John Alldis Choir/ New Philharmonia Chorus/ New Philharmonia Orch./ Philharmonia Chorus/ Philharmonia Orch./ Otto Klemperer – Warner Classics 5099940437859 (11 CDs box), TT: 3:08:36 [3/26/13] (Distr. by Naxos] ***(**):

When these four major Mozart opera recordings from Otto Klemperer and EMI trod across the classical music industry landscape 50 years ago, they cemented the period as an over the top, latter day Golden Age of artists and research and rocked the audiophile world.

Musically, the four recordings were strangely cast and the conducting became slower and slower. In terms of recording quality, the sound traced EMI’s increasingly heading for a problematic sojourn in the company’s desert of Quadraphonic Sound.

The first, The Magic Flute in 1964, featured an impossible cast including the great diva Elizabeth Schwarzkopf as merely one of the Three Ladies of the Night. The Philharmonia Orchestra was in is glory days, and the  stereo sound was fabulous: big soundstage, wide dynamic range, very smooth and utterly natural. The conducting was transcendent in a sort of oddly paced, mock serious, often illuminating way, but the impact was compromised by the lack of the dialogue. Reduced to a succession of musical numbers, even The Magic Flute couldn’t completely cut it, but the singing and orchestral playing was sensational. At the time it competed with Karl Böhm’s recording with a divine Berlin Philharmonic and featuring Fritz Wunderlich in his prime as Tamino. It was a lot of fun to listen to each of them, especially on different systems.

Don Giovanni, which followed was plodding and hollowly recorded. The cast was mostly miscast and Klemperer seemed disengaged.

Klemperer still had two tricks left up his sleeve, however, first the most dreamy ever recording of The Marriage of Figaro in 1970. It was slow, beautiful and full of falling in love, and particularly suited a cast including Gabriel Bacquier, Elisabeth Söderström and Teresa Berganza with Margaret Price as Barbarina and Kiri Te Kanawa as one of the Two Girls. The sound was magically evocative, like Prospero’s magic.

Cosi fan tutte, recorded a year later in 1971, followed the same general interpretive direction but Klemperer couldn’t quite manage to hold it together, and the sound also disappointed.

—Laurence Vittes

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