Mozart: Donna

Diana Damrau; Le Cercle de l'Harmonie (Virgin Classics 21202322)

20 January 2009 4 stars

Mozart: Donna

Following on from her first solo disc for Virgin Classics – in which she sang late-eighteenth-century bravura arias by various composers including Mozart and Salieri – the German soprano Diana Damrau has devoted her second CD entirely to the Austrian master. In the theatre she has already sung an extraordinary array of Mozart roles, often two or three from the same opera, including Susanna and Barbarina from Figaro, Blonde and Konstanze from Il Seraglio and Pamina and Queen of the Night from The Magic Flute, with Donna Anna to come this year.

This new disc gives us a mixture of roles she has sung and others she has lined up for the future, as well as a couple of concert arias and some curios from early Mozart operas. Overall the standard is very high, because Damrau has both the right vocal equipment and the interpretative ability to approach this music convincingly. It comes as no surprise that Konstanze's aria 'Martern aller Arten' from Die Entführung aus dem Serail is one of her most successful performances on this recital: the mixture of vigour and easy vocal pyrotechnics is ideal. Similarly, 'Al destin che la minaccia' from Mitridate is a sheer pleasure from start to finish, thanks to the ferocity and assurance of Damrau's performance, which nevertheless finds a subtler colour in the 'B' section of the aria.

By contrast, I find Pamina's aria curiously lacking in magic, possibly because the tempo is slightly leaden, and partly because it does not allow that same display of Damrau's high coloratura singing; others have recorded the aria with more tonal allure. Likewise, Damrau dispatches the recitative of the Countess' 'Dove sono' from Figaro with splendidly tangible anguish, but she makes the aria itself beautiful rather than poignant. To me, at least, the inner torment is hard to perceive in Damrau's smooth surface.

The soprano's purity is much better suited to Susanna's aria, which she moves around with ease, never breaking the line with harsh accents or strained top notes. There's something a little pedestrian about Rosina's 'Senti l'eco' from La finta semplice, but Damrau lightens the voice for Blonde's aria from Die Entführung, as well as sounding particularly at home in the German language.

Still, the Italian arias are no less impressively dispatched. Damrau's Donna Anna promises to be a great event if her recording of 'Non mi dir' is anything to go by, and Elvira's 'Mi tradì' is scarcely less beautifully turned. The opera seria arias from La clemenza di Tito come off very well, more so the fiery 'Non piu di fiori' of Vitellia than Servilia's creamy 'S'altro che lagrime'. Yet the two surprising highlights for me are the insertion arias Mozart wrote in 1783 for Pasquale Anfossi's opera Il curioso indiscreto. First performed by Aloysia Lange, Mozart's sister-in-law and lost love, 'Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio!' (K.418) and especially 'No, che non sei capace' (K.419) are just the kind of technically demanding, feisty pieces in which Damrau tends to excel. With Konstanze's aria, they make two of the three cornerstones of this appealing collection, which is accompanied impeccably throughout by period instrument ensemble Le Cercle de L'Harmonie under Jérémie Rhorer.

By Dominic McHugh