It's not clear from this rather mysterious historical reissue who considered this a "desert island disc," or why. Mozart's set of incidental pieces for a play called Thamos, König in Ägypten, is sung here in Italian (the original is in German), and the promised "24-bit superb sound" of the remastering is nothing of the sort; it's barely listenable, and the original 1958 recording left the choir in a remote position from which it is not rescued. It sounds like a live recording, but there is no crowd noise. Nothing is included in the package except for a CD and track list. Desert island disc or not, it is actually a nice souvenir of the earlier operatic phase of the great Italian conductor's career. The work has affinities with Beethoven's forays into incidental music: it offers a group of ambitious, rather intricate pieces for chorus, soloists, and orchestra that must have seemed out of place when the music was used for its intended purpose. Giulini brings the music a sort of symphonic grandeur, and the four soloists and especially the Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Torino della RAI respond to his lead in long stretches of sustained intensity. The work, composed in 1779, shows Mozart exceeding the limitations of his Salzburg confinement at every turn, and it is really an immediate predecessor to Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Sample the warmth and power of the finale (track 14) for some especially Beethovenian choral passages in which a middling vocal group likely exceeded its own expectations. The individual numbers appear discretely, separated by spoken narrations (in Italian) of the play's plot. At bottom it's an old-school Mozart performance of the best kind, recommended to fans of this conductor despite its limitations.
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