Once in a while one comes across a disk that sounds like it could be interesting but turns out to be a bit of a bust. That was certainly my experience with the recording of Mozart’s Davide penitente recorded in Salzburg during Mozart Week in 2015. On the face of it using the Felsenreitschule for something like its original purpose isn’t such a bad idea and the idea of choreographed horse “ballet” to a Mozart cantata is quite intriguing. On the face of it…
So what we have is the Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble and the Salzburger Bachchor arrayed in the arches of the Felsenreitschule with the Académie equestre de Versailles performing choreography by their leader Bartabas on stage and conductor Marc Minkowski conducting from a sort of eight o’clock position. There’s no attempt at a narrative. It’s entirely abstract and, for me, the range of possible Riding School moves just isn’t enough to be interesting. It’s not helped by generally low light levels. There are a few moments where it gets quite exciting but it’s mostly pretty dull.
Video director Andy Sommer seems to think so too because he tries desperately to liven it up with the whole video bag of tricks. Fades, superpositions, weird angles, everything really. It still looks like horses going around in circles in semi-darkness.
Musically it’s a mixed bag. The soloists; Christiane Karg, Marianne Crebassa and Stanislas de Barbeyrac are fine. So is the orchestra and choir. But having them back in the arches of the Felsenreitschule is problematic. The sound is coming from all over the place and it lacks the crispness that I would prefer in Mozart. Also the text goes right out of the window in the choral sections.
The performance is stretched out a bit by incorporating the March of the Priests from Die Zauberflöte, the Masonic Funeral Music and the Andante from the C Major Symphony K96. There’s also a bonus track of the Adagio and Fugue in C Minor. So, since most of the Davide music is drawn from the C Minor Mass it sounds mostly familiar but kind of odd.
Technically it’s not bad. Even on DVD sound (DTS and PCM stereo) are fine and the picture is just about good enough despite the low light levels. There is also a Blu-ray version. Subtitles are Italian, German, English, French, Spanish, Japanese and Korean.
Seriously, I can’t imagine anyone thinking this disk was worth $40 or $50.