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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791): "The Weber Sisters"

Sabine Devieilhe, soprano
Dir: Raphaël Pichon

rec: Jan 12 - 18, 2015, Paris, Notre Dame du Liban
Erato - 0825646016259 (© 2015) (72'26")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance] I: Prologue: 'La confidence naïve', or the months of waiting
Overture Les petits riens (KV 299b); [anon] Ah, vous dirai-je maman; Pantalon und Colombine (KV 446) (andante); Dans un bois solitaire (KV 308); Pantalon und Colombine (KV 446) (adagio)
II: Aloysia, mia carissima amica
Alcandro lo confesso - Non so d'onde viene, rec & aria (KV 294); Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio (KV 418); Popoli di Tessaglia - Io non chiedo, eterni dei, rec & aria (KV 316); Nehmt meinen Dank (KV 383)
III: Josepha, or the entrance into light
Adagio for two basset horns and bassoon in F (KV 410); Schon lacht der holde Frühling (KV 580); Die Zauberflöte (KV 620) (Der Hölle Rache); Thamos, König in Ägypten (KV 345) (allegro vivace assai)
IV: Per la mia cara Costanza
Die Zauberflöte (KV 620) (Marsch der Priester); Solfeggio in F (KV 393,2); Mass in c minor (KV 427) (Et incarnatus est)

Mozart's connection to Josepha, Aloysia and Constanze Weber runs like a thread through his life and career. He met the Weber family in 1777 during a stay in Mannheim. Fridolin, the head of the family, was a music copyist and sang as bass in the court chapel. He took care that his four daughters received a good musical education. Mozart fell in love with the second daughter, Aloysia, but a planned trip of the two to Italy came to nothing because of the opposition of father Leopold, who took him to Paris. Raphaël Pichon, with Sabine Devielhe and his ensemble Pygmalion, has dedicated a CD to the Weber sisters and their connection with Mozart.

The first chapter focuses on Mozart's stay in Paris in 1778. Especially interesting here is the vocal version of the song Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman, which Mozart chose as the theme of variations for keyboard. Whereas these belong among his best-known works, many music lovers may never have heard the song itself. The song Dans un bois solitairedates from a few weeks before his departure to Paris; the text is a poem by Antoine Houdar de La Motte (1672-1731), who was also the author of the libretto of André Campra's ballet L'Europe Galante. Mozart also composed ballet music: Les petits riens was written for the choreographer Jean-Georges Noverre.

The second chapter deals with the connection between Mozart and Aloysia. In 1778 his path crossed that of the Weber siblings in Vienna, but he found out that Aloysia's feelings for him had altered. The break between them did not prevent Mozart from composing three brilliant arias and the much simpler song with orchestral accompaniment Nehmt meinen Dank (KV383), all included here. In 1779 Aloysia Weber succeeded Maria Anna Elisabeth Schindler, who died in March of that year, as the leading soprano of the German National Opera in Vienna; she also married Schindler's widower Joseph Lange, an actor at the Court Theatre.

Mozart now turned to Aloysia's older sister Josepha; his connection with her is the subject of the third chapter. Mozart had no romantic feelings for her, but valued her for her qualities as a singer, which included an agile voice with a high developed top register. Her powerful and dramatic voice was perfectly suited for the role of Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte, from which we hear the most famous aria, 'Der Hölle Rache'. A special feature of this chapter is that it also includes an aria composed by Mozart as an insert for the performance of the German version of Paisiello's opera Barbiere di Siviglia. Only a sketch of this aria has come down to us; here it is performed in an attempted reconstruction by Franz Beyer.

The last chapter focuses on Constanze, the third of the four sisters, whom he married in 1782. Raphaël Pichon, in his liner-notes, states that "[curiously], none of Mozart's numerous descriptions of Constanze to his father mentions that she was a good musician, that she sang and understood music, that she had significant musical affinities with her husband". However, he was very well aware of those qualities. The music he composed for her, attests to that, and here we hear the demanding aria from the unfinished Mass in c minor (KV 427), 'Et incarnatus est', which closes the programme. This work was the immediate result of his fascination for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel, with which he had become acquainted through Baron Gottfried van Swieten, who played a leading role in music life in Vienna. It is still not known why Mozart never finished this work. Also included in this chapter is one from a set of solfeggios which Mozart created for Constanze.

Sabine Devieilhe provides impressive interpretations here. From a technical point of view, it is notable that she copes remarkably well with the very high notes in some arias. In the aria 'Der Hölle Rache', her voice seems a bit too light to me, but she is still able to convince here. The simpler and more straightforward pieces come off equally well. Unfortunately she uses too much vibrato, a fact that we hardly need to note, as this is the rule rather than the exception in this kind of recordings. However, thanks to her captivating interpretations, it is less obtrusive than with some other singers. In between the vocal works we hear some instrumental pieces, for instance from Thamos, König in Ägypten, and the ballet music Les petits riens. Here as well as in the arias, the ensemble Pygmalion delivers outstanding performances.

It is useful to add some information about two items in the first chapter. In 1783 Mozart wrote a masquerade on the theme of Pantalone and Columbina, two commedia dell'arte characters, for Carnival Monday. Aloysia played the role of Columbina, her husband Joseph Lange that of Pierrot and Mozart that of Harlequin. One of the themes, an andante, was reconstructed by Franz Beyer from the extant first violin part. It is used as a ritornello in Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman. It "resembles a distant echo of the French theme" (booklet). The chapter ends with another fragment from the pantomime, an adagio this time, "which in its turn appears to foreshadow the bare melodic line in Le nozze di Figaro". It was reconstructed by Vincent Manac'h.

No doubt, this disc is not only musically rewarding, but has also some unusual things to offer with regard to Mozart's oeuvre and his historical context. Therefore Mozart lovers should not miss this CD.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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Sabine Devieilhe

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