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Giovanni Alberto RISTORI (1692 - 1753): Divoti affetti alla Passione di Nostro Signore - Essercizi per l'Accompagnamento

Dorothee Mields, sopranoa; Franz Vitzthum, altob
Echo du Danube

rec: Feb 16 - 19, 2009, Munich (Sendling), Himmelfahrtskirche
Accent - ACC 24209 (© 2011) (63'57")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Ad mortem Jesusab [1]; Amor ah! Amor meusab [1]; Esercizio Allegro in E flat [2]; Esercizio Andante in c minor (I) [2]; Esercizio Andante in c minor (II) [2]; Esercizio del 1mo tono [2]; Esercizio in c minor [2]; Esercizio in F [2]; Esercizio in g minor [2]; Esercizio in a minor [2]; Esercizio Spirituoso in g minor [2]; Esercizio Vivace in d minor [2]; Implete pectusab [1]; Jesu morti tradebarisab [1]; O vinea electaab [1]; Per dura deviaab [1]; Qui sinum patrisab [1]; Sonata per l'Accompagnamento in g minor [2]; Versetto del 1mo tono [2]

Sources: [1] Divoti affetti alla Passione di Nostro Signore; [2] Esercizi per l'Accompagnamento

Elisabeth Seitz, dulcimer; Christian Zincke, viola da gamba; Johanna Seitz, harp; Michael Dücker, lute; Alexander Weimann, harpsichord, organ

The court in Dresden was one of Germany's main musical centres in the first half of the 18th century. Its chapel had many famous masters in its ranks, such as the violinist Pisendel, the lutenist Weiss and the flautist Buffardin. Despite the various nationalities of the chapel's members, the taste of the court was predominantly Italian. The music by Vivaldi was especially popular, and after his death it was Caldara whose music was puchased. Moreover, when in 1730 Johann Adolf Hasse was appointed Kapellmeister, the chapel was directed by someone who wrote in purely Italian style.

There were other composers who also contributed to the musical performances at the court. One of them was Giovanni Alberto Ristori whose father Tommaso was the director of a travelling company of Italian comedians. They were at the service of the Saxon elector Johann Georg III in Dresden shortly before Giovanni Alberto was born. When he was in his early 20s and already married, he joined his father when the company settled again in Dresden. At that time Friedrich August I was elector and also King of Poland (as August II). Ristori became director of the cappella polacca which accompanied August on his journeys to Poland. In 1718 his first opera was performed, and in the next ten years or so he composed sacred music for the Roman Catholic church services at the court. In the early 1730s he worked for some years in Russia. After his return there was little chance of performances of operas from his pen because of the dominant role of Hasse. Ristori instead composed music for special occasions and again some sacred music. In 1746, after the death of Zelenka, he was appointed as church composer and four years later as Vizekapellmeister. Three years later he died.

This disc brings together music from two very different sources. The Divoti Affetti alla Passione di Nostro Signore are a collection of two duets for soprano, alto and basso continuo, written for performances during the Fridays and Sundays of Lent. Since 1730 afternoon prayers took place during this period every day from Monday to Friday. On the latter day the prayers began with the Miserere, which was followed by a sermon. After that one of these duets was sung. On Sundays, the sermon was held at the end of the Vespers, and was followed by another duet. The exact date of composition is not known; the four volumes which comprise these duets were put together in the early 1740s. The texts are mostly free poetry; the author has remained unknown.

The form of the duet was quite popular in the baroque era, and one of the most famous composers of such works was Agostino Steffani who for many years worked in Germany and also acted as a diplomat. It is known that Ristori owned three volumes with copies of Steffani's duets and it is plausible to assume that these inspired him. The tradition of performing this kind of works continued well into the 19th century; later in the 18th Ristori's duets were replaced by more modern compositions. The duets are in binary form, and in most of them - at least of the seven selected for this disc - the A part is repeated. There are some moments of incisive text expression, such as the chromaticism in Qui sinum patris and eloquent pauses in several duets. However, the harmonic language isn't really daring, and there are no heartrending dissonants. They are well-written, but not immediately recognizeable as Passion music. I am writing this review about a month after Easter, but I don't feel that I should have reviewed this disc for Passiontide. Dorothee Mields and Franz Vitzthum deliver fine performances and resist the temptation to try to make too much of these pieces. Their voices blend perfectly and they add stylish ornamentation in the repeats.

The rest of this disc has no religious connotations. Although it is not known if Ristori has had any pupils it seems very likely that the Esercizi per l'Accompagnamento were meant as teaching material. The collection contains more than 40 pieces for one or two voices with basso continuo which are exercises for the correct performance of the basso continuo but also for improvisations. A selection from this collection is performed here in various arrangements, from solos for harpsichord or organ to pieces for an instrument and basso continuo. The interpreters manage to turn these little pieces into compelling compositions. A good example is the Sonata in g minor which is played here by viola da gamba and bc; especially the opening largo is quite dramatic. The opening Esercizio Andante in c minor includes some chromaticism; it works as kind of prelude to the duet Qui sinum patris which has chromatic passages as well.

This is certainly a most interesting disc which confirms the positive impression of Rostori's music as performed on a disc with music for Christmas. His oeuvre deserves to be further explored. This disc is a good contribution.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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