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The Observer - The New Review - - Classical - Stephen Pritchard

Clas­si­cal mu­sic on CD, on air and on­line

It’s taken two years, but Opera Rara’s five-star record­ing of Rossini’s epic Baby­lo­nian opera Semi­ramide is re­leased at last. Keen ra­dio lis­ten­ers may re­mem­ber a sen­sa­tional per­for­mance at the Proms in Septem­ber last year, when Mark El­der and his cast, fresh from mak­ing this record­ing, knocked the au­di­ence flat with a bravura dis­play of spec­tac­u­lar bel canto singing. Now it’s pos­si­ble to lis­ten again to Al­bina Shag­imu­ra­tova in the hugely chal­leng­ing ti­tle role and Daniela Bar­cel­lona as the war­rior Ar­sace, both singers at the top of their game.

But be warned. This piece re­quires se­ri­ous commitment. El­der has re­stored all the pas­sages nor­mally cut in mod­ern per­for­mances, mak­ing the whole thing cover four CDs. It’s worth par­celling it out to re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate the qual­ity of the daz­zling singing from a classy cast that also in­cludes Mirco Palazzi, Barry Banks and David Butt Philip. And there is won­der­fully crisp and alert play­ing from the Or­ches­tra of the Age of En­light­en­ment.

From ma­ture Rossini to ju­ve­nile Mozart. Also out last week on the Signum la­bel was the lat­est in Ian Page’s com­plete Mozart opera se­ries with his Clas­si­cal Opera com­pany, this time fea­tur­ing works writ­ten when Mozart was only 11 and 12. Grab­musik (“Grave Mu­sic”) is hardly an opera at all, but a minia­ture can­tata in which a tor­mented soul is com­forted by an an­gel. It’s re­ported that the piece was the prod­uct of test set by a Salzburg prince who did not be­lieve that the young Mozart was ca­pa­ble of writ­ing the mu­sic al­ready as­cribed to him. He shut him away for a week with a text and some man­u­script pa­per and Grab­musik was the con­vinc­ing re­sult. A year later, Mozart wrote Bastien

und Basti­enne for pri­vate house per­for­mance. It’s a bu­colic tale with bu­colic mu­sic to match, but much of it charm­ing and bear­ing the prom­ise of the glo­ries to come, par­tic­u­larly in the duet writ­ing. By a nice co­in­ci­dence, Matthew Tr­us­cott leads the or­ches­tras in both the Rossini and the Mozart record­ings.

If you missed the re­cent Proms per­for­mance of Han­del’s Theodora (left), with the glo­ri­ous com­bi­na­tion of Louise Alder, Iestyn Davies and Ann Hal­len­burg, there’s still time to catch it on Ra­dio iPlayer and swoon at the beauty of it all.

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