Chandos Release of Arriaga – Mozart with a smile

If you’re not familiar with Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga, this release is an excellent introduction. Arriaga was dubbed the “Spanish Mozart,” and with good reason. Like Mozart, he had a natural facility for the piano, and for composition. And like Mozart, he died young.

Arriaga wrote his opera “Los esclavos felices” when he was fourteen. Although it was produced and launched his career, only the overture and a few fragments survive.

Arriga extensively revised the score in 1821, which is the version recorded here. It has Mozartian lilt to it, bursting with energy and good spirits.

Arriaga’s 1824 Symphony in D shifts between major and minor. Here Arriaga seems inspired by Beethoven as well as Mozart.

Juanjo Mena and the BBC Philharmonic give performances well-suited to the music. Even Arriaga’s dramatic, 30-minute symphony has a lightness and transparency to it. Mena understands that essential nature of Arriaga and delivers on every track.

Two vocal works are included: the cantata “Herminie” and “Air de l’Opéra Médée” The 15-minute cantata is, quite simply, a masterwork of vocal writing. It hints at what the operatic world lost with Arriaga’s early death.

Soprano Berit Norbakken Solset sings with a clear, pure tone that continually delights. Her delivery reinforces the stylistic similarities between Arriaga and Mozart.

Arriaga’s music is sometimes characterized as “Mozart with a smile.” That’s especially true with this release. Highly recommended for the beauty of the music and the sterling performances it receives.

Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga: Symphony, Herminie, and Other Works
Berit Norbakken Solset, soprano | 
BBC Philharmonic; Juanjo Mena, conductor
Chandos CHAN 20077

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