September 06, 2007


Cimarosa: Opera Overtures—Voldomiro; La baronessa Stramba; Le stravaganze del conte; Il matrimonio segreto (Vienna version); L’infedeltà fedele; Il ritorno de Don Calendrino; Il falegname; Cleopatra; Il convito; La vergine del sole; Il credulo; L’impresario in angustie. Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia conducted by Alessandro Amoretti. Naxos. $8.99.

Mozart: Horn Concertos Nos. 1-4. Jacek Muzyk, horn; Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio conducted by Agnieszka Duczmal. Naxos. $8.99.

      Just about the only 18th century classical operas that remain in the repertory are those by Mozart – and Domenico Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto. Cimarosa was the most popular Italian composer of his time, but all 65 of his operas, with that one notable exception, have fallen into obscurity. Alessandro Amoretti and the Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia return some of Cimarosa’s music to the limelight with a well-played new CD of his opera overtures – but the disc provides little opportunity to hear music from the operas themselves. The reason is that Cimarosa, like Rossini in later years, generally wrote overtures that had nothing to do with his operas’ music and were essentially interchangeable. And Cimarosa did interchange them, reusing them in whole or in part for other works. Furthermore, Cimarosa – like Mozart in his earlier works – sometimes wrote overtures in the old style of the sinfonia; these are essentially brief three-movement symphonies. Thus, on this CD, Il ritorno de Don Calendrino opens with a dramatic section, moves to a lighter and dancelike one, and then offers a fast finale; and Il convito (“The Banquet”) opens with a section featuring little laughter-like string sounds, has a central section that is dancelike and Haydnesque, and then ends with a bright and bouncy finale.

      Most of the other overtures showcase scurrying strings and well-planned orchestral touches, as in Voldomiro, where horn calls and a violin solo are distinctive. La baronessa Stramba has interesting string figurations and stop-and-start rhythms. Le stravaganze del conte (“The Count’s Eccentricities”) is light, speedy and short, with a slower middle section. L’infedeltà fedele (“Faithful Infidelity” – quite a title!) makes good use of contrasts between strings and winds, and dips into the minor in the middle. Il falegname (“The Carpenter”) has a quiet, slightly mysterious opening with some interesting hesitations in the usual forward rhythm, and a middle section in the minor. Cleopatra has fanfare-like string playing, a slow introduction, and a quick and scurrying main section with periodic pauses. Il credulo (“The Gullible One”) has a speedy start and themes mostly on strings, but with a prominent oboe in the middle. L’impresario in angustie (“The Impresario in Distress”) has at least five different overtures (!). The one heard here is episodic, sounding Mozartean at the start and Haydnesque in its second theme.

      Cimarosa does some things differently with La vergine del sole (“The Sun Virgin”), an opera set in Peru. Here the orchestra is enlarged to include flutes, bassoons and timpani as well as oboes, horns and strings. There is a forceful opening; horns are prominent; flutes and timpani are set against each other; and outbursts from strings and timpani are effectively handled. As for Il matrimonio segreto, this is the first recording of the overture for the original, Vienna version of the opera. The overture is longer here than in the later version that is more often played. The bustling strings are familiar, but the lovely oboe theme is not. All the performances on this CD are enthusiastic, but the music itself is rather lacking in variety.

      The performances of Mozart’s Horn Concertos by Jacek Muzyk are enthusiastic, too, but enthusiasm is not enough in music as familiar as this. Muzyk uses a modern horn, and the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio plays on modern instruments. These works have far more variety within their essentially similar forms than do Cimarosa’s overtures, and listeners have legitimately come to expect a high level of playing in them. Muzyk and conductor Agnieszka Duczmal deliver that, but offer no new insights into the music. The best renditions here are of Concertos No. 3, K. 447, and No. 4, K. 495. In No. 3, the first movement is light, with good bounce, and the horn melds well with the strings. Muzyk uses his own cadenza, which takes advantage of keys that let him produce warm and even sounds not attainable on the natural horn, for which these works were written – but he plays the cadenza quite well. The second movement is well balanced and nicely paced, and the third has verve, spirit and particularly good horn trills. In No. 4, there is some welcome playfulness in the first movement, although Muzyk’s cadenza – again, his own – is not idiomatic. There is nice cantabile in the second movement, and the finale is bright, lively and strongly rhythmic.

      Concerto No. 2, K. 417, is all right, but nothing special. Balance is good in the well-played first movement, and the horn tone in the second movement is warm. But the finale is a touch too slow and deliberate and could use more joy. And Concerto No. 1, K. 412, is a disappointment. The first of its two movements opens very quickly, and Muzyk emphasizes a warm, rounded tone quite at odds with what the natural horn could have produced. The bounciness and use of staccato here make the movement sound like something by Hummel. The second movement has good strings-horn balance, but Muzyk’s Romantic-era swells are not welcome, and the ending is a little fussy. On balance, this is a good version of these wonderful concertos, and the price is right, but it is certainly not the first choice among the many available recordings.

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