Cher Public

Out of the depths

For those who fall prey to the sin of Pride this week, penance may follow. Thus “Trove Thursday” appropriately provides a live broadcast of Mozart’s rarely performed cantata Davide Penitente by Les Arts Florissants conducted by William Christie with Sandrine Piau, Véronique Gens and Howard Crook

Although I adore nearly all of Mozart’s vocal compositions, I’ve always been less enamored of his choral works. I’d take Haydn’s masses over Mozart’s any day although I am very fond of his unfinished “Great” Mass in C, K.427 which includes the exquisite soprano aria “Et incarnatus est.”

Two years after its premiere in 1783, Mozart needed to fulfill a commission from the Wiener Tonkünstler-Sozietät so he recycled movements from the mass for Davide whose text is based on the Davidic Psalms. The composer did, however, add new long arias for the soprano and tenor, performed at the premiere by Caterina Cavalieri and Johann Valentin Adamberger, the first Konstanze and Belmonte in his Die Entführung aus dem Serail.

I believe this may the only time Les Arts Florissants performed Davide although the group later recorded the “Great” Mass for Erato. (Sorry about the short drop-out during the final movement).

An American, Crook made his career mostly in Europe where he was Christie’s go-to tenor for French baroque music until the “British Invasion” brought Paul Agnew and Mark Padmore. However, his finest performance in that repertoire may not be with Christie but with John Eliot Gardiner on his magnificent recording of Leclair’s Scylla et Glaucus.

The first time I heard Crook was during the magical 1989 tour of Lully’s Atys at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He didn’t sing the title role in the Harmonia Mundi recording but happily his marvelous Atys is preserved in a 1987 telecast of that superlative production.

Gens shows up in two small parts in that Atys; she was just 22 at the time. She toured often to New York with Les Arts Florissants in the 90s but she hasn’t been heard here in over 20 years. Her career continues to flourish primarily in France where she just sang Halévy’s La Reine de Chypre in concert. I have a hard time imagining this cool and elegant soprano as Hanna Glawari in Die Lustige Witwe, a role she sings this fall at the Paris Opéra.

The eternally youthful Piau, on the other hand, has been a slightly more frequent US visitor sounding nearly as fresh last year as Despina in Così fan Tutte as when she sang Charpentier with LAF in 1991 at BAM. Her Dalinda was reportedly a delight in Cecilia Bartoli‘s debut production of Ariodante earlier this month in Salzburg. Too bad though she’s never had a trill.

Those wanting more Psalms after Davide, Lincoln Center has just announced that its White Light Festival this fall will feature performances of all 150 Psalms set by 150 different composers!

Mozart: Davide Penitente
Aix-en-Provence Festival July 1991
Broadcast

Sandrine Piau
Veronique Gens
Howard Crook

Les Arts Florissants

Conductor William Christie

To download Davide Penitente, just click on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

In addition, nearly 80 other “Trove Thursday” podcasts are available free from iTunes or via any RSS reader.

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