Sensational Orchestral Playing in Così fan tutte

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart: Così fan tutte (concert performance): Soloists, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Chorus / Robin Ticciati (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 04.10.2012 (SRT)

Sally Matthews – Fiordiligi
Rachel Frenkel – Dorabella
Laura Tatulescu – Despina
Maximilian Schmitt – Ferrando
Adam Plachetka – Guglielmo
Christopher Maltman – Don Alfonso

In 2010 the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Robin Ticciati began their season with an excellent concert performance of Don Giovanni and this year they do the same with Così. It’s a natural choice: the SCO are world-leading Mozartians, and Ticciati is as much at home in the opera house as on the concert platform (in a significant step, he takes on the mantle at Glyndebourne in 2014), and tonight was a performance every bit as triumphant as that of 2010.

Concert performances have their drawbacks, and in an opera so dependent on disguise for its effect it seems a shame that there were no visual cues at all in this performance, despite the capable acting of the cast. They do, however, have the advantage of focusing the audience completely on the music and, more specifically, on the orchestra. Released from the pit, it’s even easier to hear how sensational the SCO are in this music. Ticciati pared down the orchestra almost to the minimum (e.g. 2 double basses, 4 cellos) and achieved an effect of transparency so intense that each aspect of the score rang with new clarity and shine. Each chord was clipped and precise and the winds and brass brought the gold-star quality of virtuosity to them. I’ve never heard finer than the horns in Per pietà or the clarinets in È amore un landroncello, and the continuo pairing were constantly responsive and lively. For the contribution of the orchestra alone, this was a performance worth hearing.

Happily, Ticciati assembled a great sextet of singers to go with them. Sally Matthews, who triumphed as the Countess with Ticciati in this year’s Glyndebourne Figaro, here confirms herself as one of the finest Mozartians we currently have. The richness of her tone has an aristocratic quality that sets her alongside the likes of Kiri te Kanawa or Soile Isokoski in this role and she had the full technical assurance to assail the coloratura in Come scoglio. This then melted into a very moving Per pietà and her contribution to the ensembles was wonderful. Rachel Frenkel was, if anything, even more characterful as Dorabella. Her tone was beautiful but, where Matthews was aristocratic, Frenkel’s voice had a perky, irreverent air about it that really came into its own in the second act. It also lent a subversive undercurrent to Smanie implacabile, hinting at what was to come later. Laura Tatulescu acted well as Despina and was at her best in her solo numbers, while it was welcome in the ensembles, her ham-acting (perhaps making up for the lack of costumes) wore a little thin after a while.

The trio of men were every bit as good, led by the golden-toned Maximilian Schmitt, a veteran of the SCO’s Don Giovanni. The voice may have lost a little of its luxurious quality, but the burnished, honeyed hue is still there, and he soared aloft in Un aura amorosa. Adam Plachetka has a full, characterful baritone that lent itself more easily to the comic moments than to the profound, but he survived a worrying wobble in Il core vi dono to give a good account of his character’s dark outbursts in Act 2. Christopher Maltman is much younger than you might expect from a Don Alfonso, but he still managed to convey authority in his singing, the voice more athletic and vigorous than either of the lovers.

A very strong achievement, then, and one which whets the appetite not only for this year’s SCO season, but for Ticciati’s new broom at Glyndebourne.

Simon Thompson