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Marianna MARTINES (1744-1812): "Dixit Dominus - Psalms 110 & 115"

Marianna Herzig, sopranob; Nele Gramß, mezzo-sopranob
Salzburger Hofmusik
Dir: Wolfgang Brunner

rec: March 1 - 2, 2015ac & Feb 24, 2020b, Salzburg, Universität Mozarteum (Solitär)
CPO - 777 985-2 (© 2021) (60'35")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet
Score Come le limpide onde

Come le limpide ondea; Dixit Dominusb; Symphony (Overture) in Cc

Jole De Baerdemaeker, Marie-Stephanie Kolb, Sarah Nicholson, Agustina Calderon, Verena Dilger, Elisabeth Watzl, Aleksandra Zamojska (solob), Anna Katharina Weber, Leni Scxhwaighofer, soprano; Katharina Böhme, Almut Benfer-Breisacher, Michaela Editha Diermeier, Eva Schlossleitner (solob), contralto; Klaus Eibensteiner, Christian Havel (solob), Sasacha Zarrabi, Virgil Hartinger (soloa), Patrick Lutz, tenor; Roland Faust (solob), Finnian Hipper, Felix Mischitz, Benjamin Sattlecker, Alexander Steinbacher, bass
Marcello Gatti, Christine Brandauer, Eva Ivanova-Dyatlova, Sieglinde Grössinger, transverse flute; Alfredo Bernardini, Georg Fritz, Valerie Colen, Simon Böckenhoff, oboe; David Fliri, Sebastian Taddei, Erik Košak, horn; Christian Simeth, Raphael Pouget, trumpet; Klaus Hubmann, bassoon; Veronica Kröner, Martin Osiak, Florian Willeitner, Lauro Complo, violin; Herlinde Schaller, violin, viola; Edda Stix, viola; Hannah Vinzens, cello; Roberto di Ronza, Tomoko Tadoro, double bass; Heidelore Schauer, salterio; Wolfgang Brunner, harpsichord, organ; Florian Müller, timpani

During the last ten years or so Marianna Martines as been given some attention by performers. Nicoleta Paraschivescu seems to have been the main promoter of her oeuvre through two recordings, released by deutsche harmonia mundi in 2012 and 2015 respectively. They may have convinced the music world that Martines's oeuvre is well worth being performed. That is confirmed by her contemporaries who did not hold back in praising her skills, both as a performer in singing and in playing the keyboard and as a composer.

Martines was born in Vienna; her father was from Naples and had come to Vienna as gentiluomo to the papal nuncio. She received lessons from Porpora and Haydn and studied counterpoint with Giuseppe Bonno who was court composer in Vienna since 1739. The Martines family lived in the same house as the librettist Pietro Metastasio who took Marianna under his guidance and supported her until his death. She inherited his harpsichord and his music library. In 1773 she became the first female member of the Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna, a significant token of her reputation. She played a substantial role in Viennese musical life, and held soirees which were attended by Haydn and Mozart. With the latter she played some of his keyboard pieces à quatre mains. In 1790 she started a singing school in her house.

Mozart was just one of her admirers. Another one was Padre Martini, who wrote that the members of the Accademia Filarmonica would count themselves fortunate to have such an illustrious name among their ranks. Charles Burney met her in person and heard her play and sing. In her capacity as a singer he considered her "more perfect than any singer I have ever heard". He also greatly admired her compositions.

Martines was a prolific composer, but many of her works have been lost. Her extant oeuvre comprises two oratorios, motets and other sacred works, some secular cantatas and instrumental works. Only four orchestral works have been preserved: three keyboard concertos and the Symphony in C, also called overture. The latter has been recorded by Nicoleta Paraschivescu. It is a bit of a shame that Wolfgang Brunner selected this same piece. I would have preferred the recording of the only one of the three keyboard concertos that Parachivescu did not record. The symphony dates from 1770 and is partly based on keyboard music by the Neapolitan composer Francesco Durante. It has the traces of the style known as Sturm und Drang.

Dixit Dominus, a setting of Psalm 110 (109), dates from 1773, and with this work Martines applied for acceptance to the Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna. This psalm was often set by composers of the 17th and 18th centuries. That was partly due to its liturgical function - it is part of the first of Vespers on Sundays and major feast days - but probably also to the dramatic nature of some verses in the second half. Handel's setting has become the most famous, and there he demonstrates his dramatic skills. Martines's setting is different in style and more restrained. The dramatic verses are in the fifth section, where at first each of the four lines is allocated to one of the soloists, who then repeat the entire text together. The second section is a duet of soprano and alto, the third a solo for alto. Both include obbligato parts for two transverse flutes. In the fourth section, the second half (Tu es sacerdos) is fugal, and so is the end of the doxology (Et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.) It is notable that Martines uses a text that is partly different from that in the Vulgata. Wolfgang Brunner, in his liner-notes, writes that he was not able to identify the source of this version.

The second and largest work on this disc is another Psalm setting, this time a paraphrase of Psalm 115 (not 151 as the track-list has it) in Italian, written by the poet Saverio Mattei. Interestingly, two arias have an obbligato part for salterio. "Marianne Martines composed both salterio parts herself in response to a commission - presumably (...) Mattei himself played the music for this instrument", Brunner writes. He continues by stating that Martines was sceptical about its participation. She was especially concerned, whether it could be heard in a larger hall. Therefore she wanted to write the part in such a way that it would be suitable for a violin as well. The opening section is largely homophonic. The second section is for soprano and choir, and has strong dramatic traces, due to the text: "[My] impious foes whom I see around me, mock me every day: This God of yours, where is he?" Next follows a solo for tenor with salterio. The fourth section is for solo voices and choir, and comprises three sub-sections. In the first the text refers to trumpets, and here the horns take a prominent role. The second ends with the words "Hope in your Lord, that praises and prayers of him someday we shall tell", sung by soloists, who are then joined attacca by the choir, singing "Hope that our Lord in this bitter exile at last again will turn his merciful brow to us". In the sixth section, scored for tenor and choir, the text refers to a stormy sea, clouds and tempests, and obviously the horns enter again. We then get another aria with salterio, this time for soprano, and towards the end Martines turns to the fugue again. Whereas many psalm settings of this kind in Martines's time included often operatic arias, Martines largely avoids reminiscences of opera. The two arias are not very long and omit technical virtuosity. Here the text is put into the centre, and Martines has set it in such a way that this Psalm's content is done full justice.

This disc sheds light on a side of Matines's oeuvre that was not known to date. From that angle it is a substantially addition to the image of a composer who was rightly admired in her time, and whose music can still make a good impression. The pieces selected for this disc receive very good performances. The soloists do a fine job and their performances are stylistically convincing. Only now and then I noticed a little more vibrato than would have been justified, also in the tutti sections. However, that is a relatively minor issue, as overall I am quite happy with these performances. This disc is a convincing case for Martines's sacred oeuvre of which I hope to hear more.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Nele Gramß
Salzburger Hofmusik

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