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Reinhard KEISER (1674 - 1739): Theatralische Music

Olivia Vermeulen, mezzo-sopranoa
Capella Orlandi Bremen
Dir: Thomas Ihlenfeldt

rec: Jan 5 - 9 & July 3 - 4, 2016, Berlin-Wannsee, Andreaskirche
CPO - 555 060-2 (© 2020) (73'32")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Allegro assai - adagio - adagio piano - forte - vivace [3]; Aria andante [3]; Bench sempre crudel, cantataa; Carolus V (Kann's möglich sein; Mit keinem Kuss, mit keinen Blicken; Wie spielet ihr Sternen)a; Die bis in den Tod geliebte Iris, cantataa [1]; Grave - presto - entree [3]; L'Occaso di Titone all'Aurora orientea [2]; L'inganno fedele (Mi lasci dunque), cantataa; Luci non vi turbate, aria; Menuet alternativement avec le Sec. Menuet [3]; Menuet alternativement avec le Trio [3]; Rondeau [3]

Sources: [1] R. Keisers Gemüths-Ergötzung bestehend in einigen Sing-Gedichten mit einer Stimme und unterschedlichen Instrumenten, 1698; [2] Divertimenti serenissimi delle Cantate, Duette & Arie senza Stromenti, 1713; [3] Theatralische Music, 1719? [ms]

Dorothee Kunst, transverse flute; Eduard Wesley, Martin Jelev, oboe; Dagmar Valentová, Jirina Strynclová, Almut Schlicker, violin; Klaus Bona, viola; James Bush, cello; Barbara Hofmann, violone; Thomas Ihlenfeldt, chitarrone, guitar; Mark Nordstrand, harpsichord, organ

Reinhard Keiser was one of the key personalities in music life in Hamburg around 1700. He played a major role in the Oper am Gänsemarkt and composed a large number of operas. Unfortunately only a few of these have been preserved complete, and from some others only single arias have come down to us. Considering the quality of the music that has been preserved, this has to be considered a major loss. The present disc delivers ample evidence that Keiser was an outstanding composer, especially of music of a theatrical nature. The programme includes instrumental pieces and a few arias from his operas, as well as secular cantatas. The booklet does not indicate whether these pieces appear on disc for the first time, but that seems very likely. From that perspective, this disc is a major addition to the discography.

The title of this disc is taken from one of the sources of Keiser's oeuvre, the Theatralische Music, a collection of instrumental pieces which Keiser put together after he had left Hamburg for Stuttgart in 1719. These pieces don't specifically refer to his operas, but the four movements which open this disc - allegro assai, adagio e piano, forte and vivace - were used in 1734 as the Concerto avanti l'opera Circe, where it apparently received a second life. Other pieces were originally part of operas, whereas other pieces were included in a collection of opera arias, which suggest that they were originally also written for an opera. The scoring is mostly for strings, oboes and basso continuo. In the Aria andante, the transverse flute has a solo part.

The Berlin State Library owns a anthology of pieces by Keiser, which are adapted for an alto voice, under the composer's supervision. It comprises 26 arias and a cantata. From this collection the three arias from the opera Carolus V of 1712 are taken. This opera was commissioned by the senate of Hamburg at the occasion of the coronation of emperor Charles VI. The opera has not been preserved, save six arias included in the Berlin anthology. The aria Luci non vi turbate may also be from an opera, but as this collection is the only source, this is impossible to prove.

In 1714, the pastoral L'inganno fedele, oder Der getreue Betrug had its premiere. From this piece only a few arias have been preserved, as well as the cantata Mi lasci dunque, also included in the Berlin anthology. In the opera, the character Silvamire presents this cantata as a "play-within-the-play". Originally it had an obbligato part for transverse flute, which in the anthology has been replaced by a viola.

This leads us to the most interesting part of this disc: three secular cantatas, which represent the probably least-known department in Keiser's oeuvre. The longest of them is Die bis in den Tod geliebte Iris, which takes almost twenty minutes. It comprises a sequence of recitatives, ariosos and dacapo arias. It is taken from a collection of seven Singgedichte of 1698, when Keiser worked in Wolfenbüttel. It is a mixture of traditional and modern elements. The dacapo texture of the arias is what was to become the standard in the 18th century, but at the end we find an interesting mixture of old and new in two arias, which both have a dacapo, but are set two the same music, which refers to the strophic arias that were common in the 17th century. The second aria includes a virtuosic violin part, whereas another aria has an obbligato part for the violone.

L'Occaso di Titone all'Aurora oriente was originally scored for a baritone, but has here been adapted for mezzo-soprano, according to Keiser's own practice in the pieces included in the Berlin anthology mentioned above. This cantata comprises two arias, embracing a recitative. It is notable for the mixture of languages: the first aria is in Italian, the recitative and the second aria in German. This reflects a common practice in Hamburg opera performances, in which German, Italian and French were treated on equal footing within a single opera. We find this practice also in operas by Telemann.

With the cantata Benché sempre crudel we are in Stuttgart again. It is part of the Württemberg Music Library, and has been preserved in a copy by Johann Nicolaus Nicolai, the court organist. That does not necessarily indicate that it was written during Keiser's stay in Stuttgart. It was originally scored for soprano, transverse flute and basso continuo, and has been transposed here to the mezzo-soprano range, whereas the obbligato flute part is adapted for the oboe d'amore. The cantata comprises two arias, each followed by a recitative, and closes with a short aria/arioso.

This disc proves once again that the exploration of Keiser's oeuvre - or, rather, what is left of it - is worth the effort. Thomas Ihlenfeldt has recorded music by Keiser before, and it is to be hoped he does not stop here. There are more cantatas to be performed and recorded, and some arias from larger works, such as operas and oratorios, may also be not known as yet. Ihlenfeldt has a good feeling for Keiser's idiom, as the performances here show. This is quite a compelling recording, with some nice variations, thanks to the inclusion of lovely instrumental movements. Although not a specialist in early music, Olivia Vermeulen sings quite often music of the baroque period, in particular of a dramatic nature. She does well here, exploring the theatrical features of the arias and cantatas, without exaggerating them, which is in particular important in the cantatas, which were not intended for the stage, but rather domestic performance. I regret that she uses a bit too much vibrato, but overall it did not spoil my enjoyment of this disc.

One may question the transposition and adaptation of several pieces. Keiser's own practice shows that this was quite common, and there can hardly be a fundamental objection to what Ihlenfeldt has done. Even so, there is room for performances of some pieces in the original scoring.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Olivia Vermeulen
Grace Newcombe

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