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"Echoes of the Grand Canal - Music from Tiepolo's Venice"

Diana Haller, mezzo-sopranoa
Ensemble Diderot
Dir: Johannes Pramsohler

rec: Feb 11 - 14, 2019, Stuttgart, SWR (Funkstudio)
Audax - ADX13721 (© 2019) (78'12")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/JP; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sigismund Martin GAJAREK (c1689-1723): Armida disperataa; Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783): Alta nubes illustrataa; Giovanni Benedetto PLATTI (1697-1763): Concerto for keyboard, strings and bc in Fb; Sonata for violin, cello and bc in g minor; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): In furore iustissimae irae (RV 626)a; Sonata for two violins and bc in C (RV 60)

Johannes Pramsohler, Simone Pirri, Roldán Bernabé, Mario Konaka, violin; David Glidden, viola; Gulrim Choï, cello; François Leyrit, double bass; Philippe Grisvard, harpsichord (solob), organ

If the birth or the death of a composer is celebrated, performers take the opportunity to devote concerts and recordings to his oeuvre. The disc to be reviewed here was also produced at the occasion of the commemoration of someone from the arts, but in this case not a composer, but a painter: Giambattista Tiepolo, who died in 1770. He made a career in Venice, and he is considered the founder of a school known as rococo. However, the Ensemble Diderot made this recording as part of an exhibition of Tiepolo's paintings in the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. The reason of this exhibition was that from 1750 to 1753 Tiepolo stayed in Würzburg, where he painted frescoes in the Residence. The programme pays tribute to this episode in his career by including two pieces by Giovanni Benedetto Platti, who settled in Würzburg in 1722 and remained there his whole life. That is to say: from 1724, when his employer, Prince-Archbishop Lothar Franz von Schönborn, died and his successor disbanded the court orchestra, to 1729, when the latter's successor re-established it, Platti was in the service of his former employer's brother in Wiesentheid, Rudolf Franz Erwein. There a substantial part of his oeuvre was written, as Rudolf Franz Erwein was an avid player of the cello. This explains the large number of works for cello or with an obbligato part for this instrument. The Sonata in g minor is a good example: it is one of the relatively few trio sonatas of the time that is scored for violin and cello, which are treated on equal footing. It is notable, for instance, that the oeuvre of Vivaldi includes just one such sonata. The reason that this scoring was rare may be that trio sonatas were intended for amateurs, and that in Platti's time only a few amateurs played the cello. Vivaldi's Sonata in C is much more in line with the trio sonata tradition, as it is scored for two violins, which are treated as equals, and basso continuo.

Platti himself was a typical example of a performer of the past in that he played a variety of instruments, among them the violin, the cello, the oboe and the keyboard. The latter may explain the presence of music for keyboard in his oeuvre. Stefano Molardi recorded his complete output for keyboard solo, which consists of eighteen sonatas. Platti also composed concertos for keyboard and strings. The existence of fifteen concertos is documented; the six which were published have apparently not been preserved, and one of the concertos in manuscript is also lost. What is left is a corpus of nine concertos. I have reviewed two recordings of these works, by Roberto Loreggian and Luca Guglielmi respectively. It is a matter of good fortune that these don't include any duplications, and that Philippe Grisvard recorded the Concerto in F, which does not appear on any of these previous discs. It is a specimen of the galant idiom: in the solo part it is the right hand which has nearly all the thematic material, whereas the left hand is mainly reduced to the role of accompaniment. It often plays drum basses, a hallmark of the galant idiom. However, Platti was a creative and original mind, and treats harmony with considerable freedom, including passages of chromaticism here and there.

Given that Platti did not work in Venice, the sub-title of this recording is not entirely correct. Strictly speaking, Vivaldi's motet In furore iustissimae irae is not connected with Venice either. Vivaldi composed it in Rome during one of his three stays that are documented from the 1720s, always at the carnival season. The motets are mostly not connected to any particular stage in the ecclesiastical year; they were written per ogni tempo. As all the motets, In furore iustissimae irae consists of two arias, embracing a recitative, and closes with an extended Alleluia. The opening aria describes the wrath of God at the sins of mankind. The short recitative is a prayer for mercy, and the second aria then expresses the joy about the salvation through Jesus.

Johann Adolf Hasse follows the same model in Alta nubes illustrata. He was of German birth, but strongly Italian in his orientation as a composer. He was considered one of the main composers of Italian operas in the mid-18th century; they were performed across Europe, from Venice to Dresden and from Vienna to London. In 1731 he was appointed Hofkapellmeister in Dresden, as successor to Heinichen, who had died two years before. Hasse also composed liturgical music - masses, offertories, antiphons, hymns - and motets on extra-liturgical texts. Stylistically the latter show a strong similarity with secular cantatas and opera. Like the solo motets of Vivaldi, they offer the soloist the opportunity to show his or her skills. Alta nubes illustrata is a good example. If one would not know the text, one could easily take it for a secular cantata. It opens with an aria which is technically demanding, especially because of the wide tessitura. It is about the soul enjoying the "golden glow of the sun". "It is certainly not a coincidence that this aria is in G Major: the Italian tone syllable for G is 'sol' - the word for sun", Doris Blaich states in her liner-notes. After an accompanied recitative, the second aria is entirely different as here the soul realizes that he can't stand that glow, undoubtedly because of his sins (although that is not mentioned). This aria is much more restrained. In the closing 'Alleluia' the jubilant tone of the first aria returns. This motet was written for Maria Teresa Tagliavacca, a soprano at the Ospedale degl'Incurabili in Venice.

Sigismund Gajarek is the odd man out here, as he is a completely unknown quantity. I had never heard of him, and he has no entry in New Grove. He was from Dalmatia, settled in 1716 in Bayreuth, where he worked as organist at the court, where he later became Kapellmeister. The cantata Armida disperata dates from 1721, when Gajarek was staying in Venice. Armida's fate is a subject that was often treated in cantatas and operas. The cantata has the form that had been laid down by Alessandro Scarlatti: two pairs of recitative and aria. The first aria is a typical rage aria, in which Armida vents her anger, whereas in the much shorter last aria she departs, cursing the one who deceived her.

The Ensemble Diderot is one of the brightest and most brilliant of its kind. Over the years I have reviewed most of their recordings, and I rated almost each of them highly. The exceptions were those in which vocal music is included. I was not happy with the choice of singers, and that also goes for the present disc. Diana Haller has the dramatic flair that is needed for the performance of the cantata by Gajarek and the motets by Vivaldi and Hasse, but stylistically I am disappointed about her performances. That concerns her incessant vibrato, even though it is not very wide, and the way she realizes some of the cadenzas. The latter goes in particular for the opening aria of Vivaldi's motet, where in her cadenza she crosses the tessitura of her part, which is exaggerated and questionable from a historical point of view. The instrumental playing is immaculate, and Philippoe Grisvard delivers an excellent account of the keyboard part in Platti's concerto. The fact that this work and Gajarek's cantatas are first recordings is an asset of this disc. That makes it all the more disappointing that the vocal part does not really satisfy.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

Relevant links:

Diana Haller
Ensemble Diderot

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