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 Recording of the Week  Idomeneo from René Jacobs

René Jacobs has in my view achieved a perfect balance in the repertoire he chooses to record. Last month he brought us Telemann’s unjustly neglected Brockes Passion. It turned out to be a real masterpiece, full of imagination, richness and bold instrumentation. I had previously considered Telemann to be a good but slightly dull composer, but had to completely re-assess my opinion after hearing the work performed like this.

René Jacobs
René Jacobs

Now, Jacobs returns to the mainstream repertoire, continuing his Mozart opera series with the release next Monday of Idomeneo, a work the composer wrote when he was just 24. Like his other Mozart opera recordings Idomeneo was recorded after a series of live concert performances. Jacobs says he prefers these to staged performances before a recording so that he is ‘freed from the ideas of directors’. I was lucky enough to be at one of these concert performances in Brussels last November courtesy of Harmonia Mundi and it was a really memorable trip. Quite apart from the broken down Eurostar which resulted in two hours of free Champagne drinking on the way back, the performance itself was exciting, dramatic and full of all the outstanding music-making which so characterizes Jacobs’ Mozart opera recordings.

I always think that if you’re going to record repertoire that already has plenty of very fine recordings, you have to have something new and exciting to say. Well, Jacobs and his fine group of musicians have plenty. From the very opening of the Overture when you hear the vibrant and pungent sound of the Freiburger Barokorchester you know that it is going to be both spirited and exciting. In years past, recitatives in Mozart operas were often considered the boring but necessary bits between arias. Here, they’re very much brought into the dramatic action of the opera and are performed with real conviction and spontaneity. And the outstanding choral singing by the RIAS Kammerchor is surely unparalleled in previous recordings of this work.

However the real stars of the show are the soloists. Many names will be familiar from previous operas in the series with Bernarda Fink’s heroic Idamante, Sunhae Im’s enchanting Ilia and Alexandrina Pendatchanska’s thrilling Elletra all particularly outstanding. For the title role Jacobs brings in the hugely experienced Richard Croft whose rich voice combined with a sensitive and thoughtful account also make a strong impression.

As they have done with a number of their high profile releases recently Harmonia Mundi have built a mini-site where you can explore the recording, listen to numerous excerpts and watch a short video trailer. You can access this from the link underneath the picture on the website. The set is lavishly packaged and comes with a free short DVD documentary. As James Jolly said in the Gramophone Magazine recently “Gardiner's Gramophone Award-winning Archiv set has held sway in Idomeneo for 17 years, I think it's about to get a serious run for its money."

Telemann: Brockes Passion

Birgitte Christensen, Lydia Teuscher, Marie-Claude Chappuis, Donát Havár, Daniel Behle & Johannes Weisser, RIAS Kammerchor & Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, René Jacobs

(follow this link and then click on the speaker icon underneath the picture)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Mozart: Idomeneo, K366

Richard Croft (Idomeneo), Bernarda Fink (Idamante), Sunhae Im (Ilia), Alexandrina Pendatchanska (Elettra), Keneth Tarver (Arbace), Nicolas Rivenq (Gran Sacerdote) & Luca Tittoto (La Voce), RIAS Kammerchor & Freiburger Barockorchester, René Jacobs

(follow this link and then click on the speaker icon underneath the picture)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC