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Recordings

Mozart —  Airs Sacrés
25 Aug 2006

Mozart — Airs Sacrés

It seems only natural that the quality of radiance should quickly come to mind in contemplating the twelfth-century Basilica of Saint Denis, where luminous stained glass creates colored walls of mystical light.

Mozart — Airs Sacrés

Sandrine Piau, soprano; Les Talens Lyriques; Christophe Rousset, Director

Armide Classics ARM0009 [DVD]

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And it is radiance that so wonderfully characterizes the lustrous sound of soprano Sandrine Piau in this live-concert DVD from the 2003 Festival de Saint-Denis. Piau, along with the period-instrument ensemble Les Talens Lyriques and conductor Christophe Rousset present an all-Mozart program, combining various arias with instrumental music featuring wind soloists from the orchestra. The title theme—sacred arias—may be a bit misleading. Certainly the “Et incarnatus est” from the Mass in C minor, K 427 unequivocally fits, and so will excerpts from Mozart’s oratorio, Betulia Liberata, K427—once you know it is from an oratorio—and Davidde Penitente, K469. However, the operatic aria from Zaide, K344, the operatic scene, Ah, lo previdi, K272 and the concert aria Ah se in Ciel, K538 seem to stretch the concept. Moreover, to rely on the “intimate and spiritual nature” of the instrumental works like the Sinfonia Concertante, K297b to rationalize their inclusion is to press the issue too far. Piau, in an interview that accompanies the DVD, refers however to a grace in the music that transports—here perhaps is a view that one may find a sacrality in the music itself, whatever its generic associations might be.

Piau’s singing is wonderfully well suited to this music. Her tone is superbly focused, but at the same time there is a very satisfying depth at the core of the sound. The focus allows her to sing with consummate clarity and flexibility; the depth of the sound enriches its intrinsic beauty. Her maneuverability with rapid glottal articulation is impressive, amply demonstrated in the acrobatic passage work of “Ah se in Ciel,” but so too is her gorgeous connection of notes, as in her graceful performance of “Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben.” (Zaide). Clearly a performer of wide stylistic range, Piau is as strong in coloratura display as she is moving in contemplative phrases.

Rousset’s leadership prompts highly engaged, dynamic readings throughout. Phrases abound in motion—every note and musical gesture seems full of intent and direction, with no “throw aways” in earshot. And yet the high degree of engagement never seems to encumber the buoyancy of the lines. Given the opportunity to dance, Les Talens Lyriques and Rousset take it every time. An affinity developed in the ensemble’s frequent baroque work? Perhaps. Surely, however, it is an affinity that serves the music well.

Of the two instrumental works, the Andantefor flute and orchestra, K 315 and the Sinfonie Concertante, the latter is by far the more substantial and gratifying work. Here the melodies are delightfully memorable, sometimes warm and expansive, other times playfully personable, and performed with skillful flair by solo flute, clarinet, horn, and bassoon.

As a video, the recording offers enough shifting perspective to keep things interesting, while resisting the temptation to glory in the famous building itself. It is difficult to imagine being in the audience at Saint Denis and not allowing one’s eye to wander and roam, and perhaps a bit of this in the visual content would have been welcome. But it is equally sure that the radiance of the performance needs no supplementary enrichment. A Mozartian jewel, indeed!

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

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