...No matter what demands Mozart throws at his heroines, Piau is equal to the task. It...
John Armstrong 2002
Anyone who enjoys Mozart opera should hear this disc. Yet quite a few people who'd probably love it to death if they listened are going to pass it by. Why? Well, look at the selections - it's not exactly a 'greatest hits' selection in the truly popular sense.
Lucio Silla, Il re pastore, Mitridate, Zaïde - hardly front rank Mozart operas in the public consciousness; with Die Entführung we're getting closer - and suddenly you spot track 2, Pamina's gorgeous lament to lost love from The Magic Flute: 'Ach, ich fühl's' - anyone who hears Sandrine Piau singing this famous number will want to experience the rest of the recording no matter what.
It's delivered with the touching simplicity and purity of tone that Mozart must have wanted; after all it was written to be sung by a seventeen-year-old soprano, and what we're supposed to hear is the heartbreak of a teenager on the verge of womanhood. Piau used to sing in the Radio France children's chorus, and it was through a child's eyes she first experienced the world of opera; her first solo role was Flora in Britten's Turn of the Screw, and she's able unerringly to find the almost naïve simplicity of utterance that's needed for these early Mozart heroines.
But don't forget Piau's nurturing with William Christie's Les Arts Florissants and then Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques. This voice is a mature instrument, deliciously clear and impeccably produced. No matter what demands Mozart throws at his heroines, Piau is equal to the task, sometimes floating her bel canto over the soft string sound of the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, before springing thrillingly into action in some scintillating semiquavers, virtuoso runs and trills that demand real flexibility across the full range of the voice. It always sounds as though she has range, and power, to spare - the highest notes, the most precipitous passages are despatched with total security. It feels so easy and natural you'll probably find yourself grinning from ear to ear in delight.
It won't just be because of the singing: this turns out to be a truly intelligent selection of arias, a connoisseur's guide to early, Italianate Mozart, and the talents of the singers he had at his disposal even then. And if you doubt that a recital from these works can possibly offer the same kind of quality and delights as a selection of more famous arias from the later masterpieces, then just listen to the last track from Mozart's early, unfinished Zaïde, truly a genius at work.
This is the most refreshing, surprising, and totally enjoyable Mozart recital I've heard in ages. Go and get it, please.
Andrew McGregor - presenter of CD Review on Radio 3