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Richard Wigmore
Gramophone, May 2012


The cast is uniformly good, and Fischer’s dramatic pacing, characterisation and care for orchestral colour and nuance are second to none... © 2012 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

Stephen Francis Vasta
Opera News, March 2011

Idomeneo is not an easy opera to bring off: it’s hard to balance the score’s vocal and musical demands while investing its stilted opera seria libretto with dramatic life. The present production isn’t perfect, but it comes as close as any of its predecessors.

Adam Fischer attained a high profile through his work with the period-instrument Austro–Hungarian Haydn Orchestra. I don’t think the Danish Radio Sinfonietta is such a period-specific ensemble, at least not all the time—the ensemble’s repertoire takes in works of the Second Viennese School—but it certainly sounds like one here. The string sound is full-bodied yet clean and uncluttered: the Act III marcia, especially, suggests the use of gut strings, rather than steel. Chordal accents, particularly those involving the batterie, are crisp whacks that decay quickly, while stabbing violin accents add urgency to the faster numbers. Fischer prefers to keep things moving—“Zeffiretti lusinghieri” and “Idol mio,” perhaps, want more time to bloom—but the music never feels rushed, merely flowing and dramatically purposeful.

Beyond the use of historical instruments, the “applied musicology” here leans toward occasional discreet embellishments in the numbers, rather than avalanches of appoggiaturas in the recitatives. More crucial to the performance’s success, however, is the way the singers have been coached into authentically realizing the inflections and rhythms of spoken Italian, making the drama more immediate. Unsurprisingly, the Elettra, Italian soprano Raffaella Milanesi, sounds most natural in this, but all of the principals maintain a high level.

Christian Elsner is an apt Idomeneo. His basically dark timbre—in some of his recitatives, he sounds like a baritone—and full-throated tone suggest the character’s inherent authority; so does his generally forthright, incisive delivery. His smooth, even legato extends to the various runs and melismas, which he sings without aspirating. He does turn borderline shouty in parts of the Act III quartet; elsewhere in the same act, his attempts at quiet, introspective singing, however heartfelt, are croony and monochromatic. “Torna la pace,” Idomeneo’s difficult last-act aria, is omitted, as it was by Mozart himself when he was preparing the opera’s premiere in Munich in 1781.

Kristina Hammarström’s Idamante is an appropriate son for this Idomeneo. Her compact tone, as recorded, doesn’t have real alto depth, but her legato is firm, her voice secure as it ascends to the top. (The high tessitura of “No, la morte” taxes her a bit.) She maintains a poised, dignified characterization even at peak dramatic moments, and, like Elsner, she brings a nice variety of pacing to the recitatives.

The Ilia, Henriette Bonde-Hansen, gets herself and the opera off to a poor start with stressed, strenuous singing and swallowed vowels. When she relaxes later, in “Se il padre perdei,” her soprano opens up and shines. A bit of the pressure returns in “Zeffiretti lusinghieri,” where she also “covers” when singing softly. Conversely, Milanesi’s quick, alert Elettra is disappointing in Act III’s “D’Oreste, d’Aiace”: her high expostulations sound careful and reined in, and her low range lacks substance.

Arbace, Idomeneo’s confidant, here gets the two full-fledged, demanding arias that are frequently cut in modern performances and recordings. Fortunately, Christoph Strehl brings to the role strengths similar to Elsner’s—a flowing, liquid tenor with a solid presence in the low range, bridging upward leaps without effort, rising easily to an interpolated high C. The first, dog-chasing-its-tail runs of “Se il tuo duol” are sketchy, but otherwise he executes the passagework artfully and with dash.

The libretto, reliable and accurate for most of the opera, prints a completely different version of the final scene, beginning at Ilia’s entrance, from what is actually performed; Elettra also sings a longer version of her final accompagnato than is printed. Dacapo has relegated Fischer’s spirited, gracious performance of the thirteen-minute ballet sequence to a separate CD, which explains the four-CD format; this isn’t extravagant in view of the price break for the set.

Bob Rose
Fanfare, March 2011

In the last two decades of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th, the major opera houses of the world tossed Mozart operas into the wastebasket. In that time opera was dominated by the concepts of music drama and verismo. Mozart wrote for singers, not conductors, and the tyranny of the conductor, which Verdi despised, dominated the era. The earliest revival of Mozart operas was at the Salzburg Festival in 1922 when Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte, and Le Nozze di Figaro were performed, but sung in German. Idomeneo was not performed until 1951and was sung in Italian. The revival of Mozart at Glyndebourne took place in 1934, and Idomeneo was first performed there in 1951.

The history and evaluation of this opera was written by James Camner in his review of the recording conducted by John Eliot Gardiner in Fanfare 15:3. I would agree that is one of the best recordings of the opera, the other being conducted by Charles Mackerras on EMI. Actually there are several good performances on CD of this opera.

This recording has the virtue of being complete. Mozart, himself, made many changes in the opera, notably cutting arias and simplifying the tenor aria “Fuor del mar.” Adam Fischer, the conductor, is one who understands that Mozart’s music should be elegant. Many conductors use fast tempos that often destroy the elegance. This performance includes the ballet music on the fourth CD.

The cast is quite adequate. Kristina Hammarström’s bright mezzo is a good Idamante, Henriette Bonde-Hansen’s lyric soprano sings a good Ilia, Raffaella Milanesi’s dramatic soprano is fine as Elettra, and Christoph Strehl’s lyric tenor produces a fine Arbace. Fortunately Arbace’s arias are not cut. Unfortunately the principal role of Idomeneo is sung by Christian Elsner, whose nasal tenor is disturbing. He does manage to get through the original version of “Fuor del mar,” but only with what is obviously a great deal of difficulty.

The sound on this Dacapo release is excellent, the packaging quite fine. A large booklet contains notes in Danish, German, and English by Claus Johansen with many of the letters about the composition of the opera written by Mozart to his father. There is also a section with notes about the conductor and the singers as well as a list of the tracks, and a complete libretto with an English translation. On the whole this is a good release…

Carl Bauman
American Record Guide, March 2011

The voices vary from very good to outstanding. By and large Adam Fischer’s conducting is also very fine…For an outstanding production with exceptional notes in good SACD sound get this Da Capo.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

David Vickers
Gramophone, January 2011

Adam Fischer’s series of Mozart’s serious operas turns its attentions to Idomeneo (Munich, 1781). Some cuts Mozart made before the first performance are followed, such as the abridged cavatina for Idomeneo and the Priests (as they prepare for Idamante’s sacrifice), and the king’s final aria “Torna la pace” is omitted. Other music is reinstated—nowadays one expects to hear Elettra’s “D’Oreste, d’Aice”, and with its preceding accompanied recitative in full, but Fischer also restores the magnificent ballet music at the end of the opera (included separately on the fourth disc). The chunky booklet includes the libretto and a comprehensive selection of the Mozart family’s correspondence about the opera’s composition, rehearsal and production. Fischer’s Mozartian work is less hyped (and less polemical) than the corresponding efforts by René Jacobs, whose recent Idomeneo typified how superb period-instrument playing and a prestigious cast might still be greeted with mixed admiration from sceptics inclined to deplore scattered iconoclastic whimsies. In contrast, the Danish Radio Sinfonietta’s modern instruments play with impeccable sense and style, and Fischer quietly gets on with delivering outstanding results that bespeak natural judgment of Mozartian music drama: his pacing, shaping of phrases and balancing of strings with woodwind textures are magnificent, and the theatrical effects in the orchestration emerge lucidly. Richard Lewis’s harpsichord accompaniment in recitatives is astute, even if some might quibble that the keyboard continuo ought to be a fortepiano.

Christian Elsner’s beefy tenor lacks mellifluousness in the Cretan King’s loveliest arias (“Vedrommi intorno” is husky rather than beautiful), and is stretched slightly by the reams of coloratura in “Fuor del mar” (which is superbly played and conducted), but his recitatives effectively portray a mature-sounding Idomeneo whose torment at the hands of Neptune warrants a peaceful abdication. Kristina Hammarström’s ardent Idamante is almost on a par with other eminent castrato-substitute counterparts on disc (Anne Sofie von Otter, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Bernarda Fink); “No, la morte io non pavento” has the perfect characterisation of virtuous courage. Muted strings, solo woodwinds and horn play sublimely during Ilia’s “Se il pardre perfei”, and Henriette Bonde-Hansen’s sensitive singing also combines sweetly with the soft orchestration at the beginning of Act 3 (“Solitudini amiche…Zeffiretti lusinghieri”). Christoph Strehl is supple vocally and dignified dramatically as Arbace. Raffaella Milanesi’s s Baroque expertise is evident in her tormented Elettra; there is a hint of strained smokiness in “D’Oreste, d’Aiace” (which works), the Sturm und Drang character of “Tutte nel cor” is conveyed to perfection by Fischer and the ensuing storm chorus “Pietà! Numi pieta” has flawless spatial differentiation between the groups of men. The Danish National Choir is disciplined and resonant; the prominent brass during the tumultuous “Qual nuovo terrore” is thrilling and the entire scene culminating in “Oh voto tremondo” is hair-raising. The unique and marvellous qualities of Idomeneo are faithfully and satisfyingly capture on disc and the result bears close comparison with the benchmark versions by Sir John Eliot Gardiner and Sir Charles Mackerras.

Gavin Dixon
MusicWeb International, November 2010

There’s something reassuringly old-fashioned about this release. For one thing it is a studio recording of an opera, not completely unheard of these days but far rarer than they used to be. There is a full libretto with English translation, another increasingly rare luxury. The packaging seems to be from a different age as well: the four discs come in one of those big double jewel cases, the first I’ve seen in a very long time.

The use of modern instruments would also seem like a throwback, were it not for the astute observance of 18th century performance conventions. The orchestra here is small, the brass are raspy when they need to be, and the timpanist regularly takes out his hard-headed sticks. To be honest it is often easy to forget that modern instruments are being used. And I’m pleased to report that Fischer opts for harpsichord continuo, an option far preferable to the clattering fortepiano of René Jacobs’ recent recording.

Fischer’s loyalty to 18th century conventions means that nothing is ever taken to extremes, meaning that the musicality and contrast are expressed through subtle gradations of dynamics and vocal tone colour. The phasing, especially in the orchestra, is executed in a similarly precise and subtle manner. It’s not that there is no variety or contrast, but rather that the music is articulated through the minutest of volume and attack changes.

Nor does the result lack drama. The tempestuous conclusion to the second act is as stirring as you could want, and never feels like it is straining against the historical conventions. The second half of act three is similarly emotive. The only singer who ever seems in danger of losing it, dramatically speaking, is Raffaella Milanesi as Elettra. But that is exactly what is required here, and by overstepping the civilised conventions to deliver her agonised final arias, she pinpoints the emotional crux of the opera and elegantly prepares the final joyous climax.

With the exception of Milanesi’s Elettra, all of the other voices are very well balanced and matched, almost too much so perhaps. Each sings with narrow, finely controlled vibrato, which allows the many ensemble movements to cohere impressively. Christian Elsner sings the title role with restrained tone and emotion. In a more extrovert production that might be a problem, but it’s ideal here. Christoph Stehl struggles with a few of the high notes as Abrace, but otherwise fits well into the style of the performance. The majority of the running time of the opera is taken up with solos by the female leads, all of whom (apart from Milanesi) have a similarly refined, controlled and balanced tone. In fact, it is useful to have the libretto to hand because it can be very difficult to tell them apart.

The SACD sound is excellent. Superior audio is a real asset in this kind of performance, as it allows the detail of the sound to come through without the performers having to make anachronistic excesses in their dynamics for the sake of the audio clarity. The orchestra is put under exceptional scrutiny by the microphones, and bar one or two tiny slips does very well. The presence of sound from the wind, brass and percussion is impressive, and is in stark contrast to recordings made in opera pits. But even with this level of detail lavished on the orchestral sound, it is always the singers who come first. The limited range of dynamics means that you can turn up the volume with impunity. That really benefits the singers, who gain even more presence for the sake of a few notches on the volume dial.

All round then, a good buy. If you are comparing the price against the number of CDs, it is probably worth bearing in mind the disc four is only 13 minutes long, containing as it does the original ballet music. This too is well played and is a valuable extra.

Long gone are the days when Idomeneo languished as a neglected masterpiece. This recording enters a market place that is now as competitive as any, but it deserves to do well. A historically astute, sensitive and absorbing performance, recorded to the highest of modern standards and beautifully presented too.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group