The freestanding operatic scene would have been a favored form of court entertainment in the 18th century, and five of the six pieces heard here, even the temporal outlier by Felix Mendelssohn, have texts by the king of Classical-era Italian opera librettos, Pietro Metastasio. Nevertheless, with the exception of Beethoven's Ah! Perfido, Op. 65 at the beginning of the program, none of the music here is terribly often performed despite the big names involved. Mendelssohn's Infelice pensier -- Ah, ritorna, età dell'oro, Op. 94 (1834), a work of the composer's full maturity, is a real rarity, and soprano Christiane Karg gives it full weight and, given the subject matter of faithlessness, seething anger. Karg has a bright, slightly edgy soprano, not super-sized, that is ideal for this repertory, and she gives nice chamber performances with a good deal of emotional display. Next to the Mendelssohn, the biggest surprise is probably the pair of scenes by Haydn, which display an entirely unfamiliar and quite flamboyant side of the composer. The medium-sized period-instrument orchestra Arcangelo under Jonathan Cohen provides ideal accompaniment that explores the role unusual instrumental timbres played in this genre, even more so than in opera. A more than competent performance that fills a major hole in the recorded repertory.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim