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Conductor Teodor Currentzis (who once declared ‘I am going to save classical music’, and now operates in a place called Perm near the Urals) calls this a no-compromise recording which will finally open our ears to what Figaro should be. Fighting words indeed. He is a talented conductor and his outfit MusicAeterna is fanatically devoted, dedicated and disciplined – a sort of orchestral Teutonic Knights, though without the laughs.

I found the result rather upsetting. The worst thing is the singing; Andrei Bondarenko’s beautifully elegant Count is the only one to earn his place. Currentzis has deliberately sacrificed big operatic singing to intimacy – no need for a foghorn in a studio, as he reasonably says. But there’s a point to operatic singing beyond mere volume, as Bondarenko shows: depth, expression, colour, character.

For the rest Christian van Horn is a suave enough Figaro and Malena Ernman sings Cherubino very musically. But the piping, breathy Simone Kermes is an awful Countess with her over-ripe, caricature emotions, and Fanie Antonelou’s rather thin Susanna is textbook cute but hasn’t the depth to carry the show. Besides Bondarenko there is precious little actual conversation or weight to the words as these non-Italians parrot the phonemes (and the emotions). The recits try so hard to be natural – every note, nuance and look-at-me continuo flourish rehearsed to death – they become anything but.

Under Currentzis’s forthright baton you certainly hear every detail of the orchestration; the sound is preternaturally vivid and clear, if rather tight. It is played with enormous virtuosity (though my heart bled for the poor flautist, trying to play staccato semiquavers in an overture that already breaks the land speed record), studied to the last tittle – astonishing to have something so ferociously accurate coming out of Russia. But he approaches the score as if it were an adolescent Sturm und Drang number, unable to caress the phrases, whacking you in the head with every sforzando, misunderstanding the pacing, applying (according to him) the absolute letter of Mozart’s notation but without a jot of his spirit. There is, most damningly of all, not an ounce of wit.

A genuine Mozart conductor vanishes in the music. This is the exact opposite: Mozart himself vanishes in a project of the purest vanity.

Robert Thicknesse Read the full review on Agora Classica

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