When the Academy of Music announced a Mozart concert with Christian Gerhaher in its season, one naturally thought that it would mainly consist of arias, showcasing the same material as his recently released album, but in any case putting the singer in the center of the concert. Instead, we got a programme that was almost worthy of a separate, purely orchestral concert from the brilliant Freiburger Barockorchester and in which Gerhaher's contributions, particularly in the first half, seemed nearly lost.

Christian Gerhaher © Jim Rakete | Sony Classical
Christian Gerhaher
© Jim Rakete | Sony Classical
Chopping up the Linz Symphony with shorter arias sung between the movements seemed awkward enough on paper, and wasn't much more appealing in performance either. Indeed, the arias Gerhaher chose felt almost like fillers: all were sung very well, as could have been expected, but none of them were really arresting – Don Giovanni's “Deh, vieni alla finestra” or Champagne Aria, or any of Papageno's arias (which were strangely absent from the programme) would have made more of an impact. Thus the orchestra, led by Gottfried von der Goltz, ruled the first half of the concert with a performance of the Linz Symphony that brimmed with energy, the bright, brisk playing of the strings and the wonderfully warm, velvety sound of the woodwinds lighting up the concert hall.

The first really memorable performance from Gerhaher came with “Aprite un' po quel'occhi” (inserted between the third and fourth movements of the symphony), where he could finally properly show off his rich, resonant baritone (particularly sonorous in the lower registers), his exceptional use of colors and engagement with the text, drawing up an excellent image of the bitter and raging Figaro.

The second half started with the Clarinet Concerto, or rather, with a short, enthusiastic lecture from the soloist, Lorenzo Coppola, both on the basset clarinet and his ideas about the concerto. In performance, he proved to be just as engaged and engaging, interacting constantly with the orchestra (sometimes even to a comical extent). His playing was effortless, holding a witty and lively dialogue with the orchestra in the first and third movements, but the highlight was undoubtedly the famous Adagio, where delicate, sensitive phrasing from both the orchestra and the soloist and some very tasteful ornamentation from Coppola created such hauntingly beautiful music that applause almost felt inappropriate afterwards.

After the rapturously applauded concerto, Gerhaher ruled the stage with Leporello's fittingly cheeky Catalogue Aria and a mocking “Non più andrai”, where yet again his subtle use of the text and dynamics allowed for vivid, captivating renditions of these well-known arias. Finally came what felt like his very best of the evening, the Count's “Hai già vinta la causa”, sung with incredible ease and such menace that I wished I could see him in the entire role. He returned once again to the stage to deliver Guglielmo's “Donne mie, la fate a tanti” with biting irony, seconded by the orchestra – the communication between them and Gerhaher and their effectiveness in underscoring his interpretation was fantastic in these last four pieces. All in all, a highly enjoyable evening – if only the programme had been constructed differently to make it truly memorable.