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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Overture, Le nozze di Figaro, K492 (1786) [4:43]
Serenata Notturna, K239 (1776) [13:50]
Voi che sapete (Cherubino’s aria, Le nozze di Figaro) [3:31]
Alleluja from Exultate Jubilate, K165 (1773) [3:31]
Joaquin TURINA (1882-1949)
Canto a Sevilla selection (1926) [18:51]
Victoria de los Angeles (soprano), Residentie Orkest den Haag/Antal Doráti
rec. 31 August 1951, Kurzaal, Scheveningen, The Hague

This is my first encounter with Antal Doráti Live. Great podium names often fall into obscurity the moment they die, and it is left to the nerds, collectors and daylight-fearing archivists to keep their reputations alive. I am very glad that someone is attending to Doráti’s legacy with this series of live recordings, since most of his recorded output was made in the studio. Today Antal Doráti is best remembered in two very contrasting guises: a hypo-intense conducting figurehead for the sonically thrilling Mercury label and then, mellowing slightly, for the vast Decca project of the complete Haydn symphonies and oratorios. Comparisons are inevitably made between that other highly charged Hungarian, Sir Georg Solti. They certainly shared the same flair in Kodály and Bartók. Doráti, however, rarely did opera, and after the Mercury years had no lavish contract to record and re-record the standard repertoire. Looking through the other titles on Antal Doráti Live, it is pleasing to see that they are not merely duplicating works he had officially recorded. As far as I can tell, this entire album is new to Doráti’s recorded repertoire, and on that alone is to be welcomed.

The first thing one will notice, unfortunately, is the sound with a prominent crackle (biased to the left channel). This suggests a radio broadcast that had been put onto acetate. Get over that, though, and the sound is pretty good for its vintage; there is distortion only when the lovely Victoria de los Angeles is at full pelt. According to an exhaustive book of her every concert date, this was the first of only two occasions when Doráti worked with the Catalan opera star. The second was in Australia in 1965, when her bright, golden tone was less easily produced. In 1951, de los Angeles was at her freshest. She produced a folksy, shimmering stream of golden sound, especially around the lower end of her voice.

This is arguably her best account of Voi che sapate (from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro), Cherubino’s naughty aria of infatuation towards the Countess. The singer recorded it elsewhere live but this is treasurable for Doráti’s accompaniment, brisk and buoyant, with crisp pizzicati. Annoyingly, we only get the vocal movements of Joaquin Turina’s Canto a Sevilla, missing out on the wonderful dance-like depictions of Sevillian street and religious life. Again de los Angeles can be heard on a complete recording of it on EMI but this abridged performance really flies. The lavish, busy orchestration is whipped up to a frenzy by Doráti, with de los Angeles soaring above.

What a short little concert it must have been. It is a real shame that neither Doráti nor de los Angeles found time for the remaining ten minutes of Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate, his evergreen motet from 1773. De los Angeles recorded the whole piece beautifully with Adrian Boult a decade later (on Testament) but it would have been fascinating to hear what Doráti could have done with this overplayed work. Mozart’s charming Serenata Notturna, written when still in Salzburg, is winningly performed here, with excellent, sweet-toned playing from the first violinist. It is so strange how little Mozart Doráti did, especially when he was handed such a vast Haydn project to helm. Other than a handful of symphonies and Eine kleine Nachtmusik for Mercury, there appears to be little else. These glimpses are tantalising especially with such a taut, bustling account of the overture to Le Nozze di Figaro. Doráti’s Mozart really does not sound out of place in today’s energetic, period-instrument world.

As you can tell, this is must buy only for fans of each artist. Even though their performances are a delight, to the casual buyer this would an odd, rough-sounding concert. My review copy came only with photo-copied booklet so I can’t vouch for ADL’s presentation definitely and I suppose other, more prestigious labels could have done more with the sound. Yet it matters not. This is a delightful curiosity to have unearthed, a rare collaboration of two brilliant artists. So the sound is scratchy, the programme is odd and insubstantial, the diva recorded the same pieces in better sound elsewhere and there is virtually no documentation. I could not recommend it more!
Barnaby Rayfield

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