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 Recording of the Week  Christiane Karg sings concert arias by Beethoven, Haydn, Mendelssohn, and Mozart

A new recording from the classy German soprano Christiane Karg is always a treat – Amoretti (her 2012 debut disc of Mozart, Gluck and Grétry) immediately established her as one of the most exciting new voices on the block, and her most recent recording Heimliche Aufforderung/ was described by The Sunday Times as ‘one of the best Strauss lieder recitals ever’. This time she takes on concert-arias by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelssohn with Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo, who also collaborated with her on Amoretti.

There’s a lovely sense of exploration and discovery about this project, both in terms of the repertoire and Karg’s own vocal qualities. It’s a coherent and innovative programme, as well as a canny way to (as she puts it) ‘immerse myself a little more in the dramatic fach, without going “all the way” and becom[ing] an Isolde’: whereas a disc of operatic arias could easily end up looking like a ‘wish-list’ of future roles, the repertoire here simply allows Karg to experiment with vocal colours and effects (and even whole areas of the voice) which have been left relatively untapped in her current operatic repertoire of girlish light lyric roles.

Christiane Karg
Christiane Karg

(For what it’s worth, I’d tip her as a potential Agathe in Der Freischütz and various lyric Strauss heroines – she’s already sung Zdenka in Arabella, and on the basis of this new disc it sounds like she could graduate to her big sister in the not-too-distant future. Karg’s very much her own woman, but the strength and purity of her singing here puts me in mind of both Lucia Popp and Gundula Janowitz, both of whom took on Strauss and even the youthful Wagner heroines after light lyric beginnings).

Karg lays her cards on the table with a blistering and totally assured account of Beethoven’s monstrously challenging ‘Ah, perfido!’: intended for the first Leonore, Anna Milder (a singer whom Haydn described as having ‘a voice like a house’!), it makes similar demands in terms of requiring both vocal drama and agility, as well as the ability to project over relatively heavy orchestration and a range of over two octaves (both extremes of which are mercilessly exposed and exploited!). Karg comes through with flying colours: her keen dramatic instincts (plus the clarity and incisiveness of Cohen and Arcangelo) ensure that nothing sounds ‘careful’, but we’re clearly in the presence of a singer who knows her instrument inside out and husbands her resources judiciously in service of the music rather than blowing a gasket trying to emulate her predecessors. (One of the most frequently-recorded works here, this scene’s been taken on by singers as diverse as Maria Callas, Birgit Nilsson, Janet Baker and Marilyn Horne, which gives some idea of its fearsome demands!)

Next up is a heart-stoppingly beautiful account of Mozart’s best-known concert aria, ‘Ch’io mi scordi di te?’, where Karg is joined by her regular recital-partner Malcolm Martineau, who plays the obbligato keyboard part with wonderful lyricism and poetry. There’s some lesser-spotted Mozart later on, too, in the form of the rarely-recorded ‘Misera! Dove son?’ (K369), a scenery-chewing mad-scene which sets part of Metastasio’s libretto for Ezio and shows Karg’s histrionic gifts to the full. The two Haydn scenas (the well-known ‘Scena di Berenice’, usually the province of mezzos, and the intriguing rarity ‘Miseri noi, misera patria’ – a chilling portrait of a city devastated by war) also fit her like a glove, whilst Mendelssohn’s ‘Infelice pensier!’ brings the disc to a blazing close: written for Maria Malibran and recently championed by Cecilia Bartoli, it shows Karg in all her glory, with a delicious violin obbligato from her friend Alina Pogostkina.

Christiane Karg: Scene!

Christiane Karg (soprano), Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC