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Isfrid KAYSER (1712 - 1771): Magnificat - Missa VI

Orpheus Vokalensemble; Ars Antiqua Austria; Jürgen Essl, organa
Dir: Jürgen Essl

rec: July 2 - 4, 2016, Ochsenhausen, Landesakademie Ochsenhausen (Bibliothekssaal)
Carus - 83.479 (© 2017) (60'58")
Liner-notes: E (abridged)/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Alma redemptoris materc [5]; Laudate Dominumbcde [3]; Laudate pueribcde [3]; Magnificat Ibcde [3]; Missa VI in d minorbcde [2]; Parthia Ia [4]; Sursum cordab [1]

Sources: [1] Cantatae sacrae complectentes Arias, op. 1, c1741; [2] Missae, op. 2, 1743; [3] Psalmi longiores, & breves in Vesperas, op. 3, 1746; [4] Concors Digitorum Discordia, op. 4, 1746; [5] Vesperae cum consuetis Antiphonis, op. 7, 1754

[OV] Maria Bergmann, Agnes Knoop, Marie-Christine Köberlein, Johanna Prommranz (solob), Catherina Witting, soprano; Seda Amir-Karayan (soloc), Carina Aronsson, Franziska Gündert, Eva Hage, contralto; Jószef Gál, Jo Holzwarth (solod), Patrick Siegrist, Mikolaj Jan Walerych, tenor; Martin Backhaus, Klaus Brecht, Gustav Nordlander, Christos Pelekanos (soloe), Jan Sauer, bass
[AAA] Martin Mühringer, Martin Weichselbaumer, trumpet; Martin Eitzinger, Adalberg Heizinger, horn; Gunar Letzbor, Fritz Kircher, violin; Barbara Konrad, viola; Peter Trefflinger, cello; Jan Krigovsky, double bass; Erich Traxler, organ; Alex Georgiev, timpani

The music written between the baroque era and the classical period enjoys an increasing interest of performers and audiences. However, it is mostly the instrumental music which is performed. In comparison, the sacred music is still underestimated. The orchestral works of members of the Mannheim School, for instance, are pretty well represented on disc, but their vocal music is hardly known. The present disc also sheds light on a composer from this period in music history, who so far has remained under the radar. Isfrid Kayser appears only on two previous discs, both devoted exclusively to organ music. This new production comprises almost only world premier recordings. From the track-list we may conclude that only the Laudate pueri and the Magnificat as well as the Kyrie from the Missa VI have been recorded before.

Isfried Kayser was born in Türkheim an der Wertach, near Augsburg, where his father worked as a schoolmaster and organist. He may have given Isfrid, baptized as Laurentius Antonius, his first music lessons. Isfrid then completed his schooling in Munich at the Jesuit Gymnasium. He entered the Premonstratensian Imperial Abbey Marchtal, made his profession in 1732 and celebrated his ordination in 1737. He seems to have studied organ and composition with Conrad Michael Schneider. Between 1737 and 1752 he composed music dramas for school theatres and Jesuit colleges. In 1741 he became regens chori (director of music) at the Marchtal monastery, and composed around 100 works for the liturgy. Most of them have been printed; others have been preserved in manuscript.

Elizabeth Roche, in the article on Kayser in New Grove, mentions that Kayser was somewhat different from most composers of religious music of his time and environment, such as Johann Valentin Rathgeber. "He retained the basic scoring of most published church music of this period - SATB solo and chorus, two violins and continuo, with occasional trumpets and drums. (...) Psalm settings are divided into several movements, including da capo arias, and the longer sections of the Ordinary are similarly divided. His Kyries in particular are large in scale, usually consisting of a slow introduction followed by a fugue, which returns after a solo 'Christe eleison'. He also habitually ended the Gloria with a fugal 'Cum Sancto Spiritu'; his choral fugues show him as a highly accomplished contrapuntist." Some features manifest themselves here, but overall the pieces included in the programme are of a more modest character. That certainly goes for the Missa VI, whose Kyrie is rather concise and takes less than three minutes. The entire mass lasts just over 16 minutes. There are not many solo episodes, and these are rather short. The exception is the Benedictus, which is a solo for the tenor. The Crucifixus in the Credo is singled out, with some marked text expression, both in the (solo) vocal parts and the strings; the latter play repeated chords. In this mass the latter are joined by a pair of horns.

All the pieces included here are taken from printed editions which appeared in Augsburg between 1741 and 1754. The Missa VI is from a collection of masses, which was printed as Kayser's Opus 2 in 1743. The programme opens with a setting of Laudate pueri, one of the Vesper psalms. Within a relatively short space of time (5'46") Kayser creates much variety through different forms, including recitative and duet (mostly in parallel motion), and closes with a fugue. Considering the psalm's content it does not surprise that the two violins are joined by a pair of trumpets and timpani. Laudate Dominum is another Vesper psalm, and is taken from the same collection. Both in the tutti and the soli the bass has a leading role.

Whereas the solo parts are mostly rather short and technically not very demanding, that is a bit different in Sursum corda, which has the form of a solo motet, as it appears in, for instance, the oeuvre of Vivaldi, but which we also know from Mozart. This motet has the same structure as the latter's Exsultate jubilate: two dacapo arias are separated by a recitative, and the piece closes with an elaborate setting of the "Halleluja". This motet is taken from Kayser's first printed collection of 1741. There are several moments of eloquent text expression, for instance in the B section of the first aria: "I crushed what held me chained"; the phrase "I flew toward heaven" is depicted by ascending figures.

The Marian antiphon Alma redemptoris mater is from the Op. 7 of 1754 and includes a solo for the alto. The disc ends with a setting of the Magnificat. It was common practice to pay special attention to some of the verses, in particular those about the fate of the mighty and the rich, and that is not any different here. In 'Suscepit Israel' the tenor and the bass sing solo, largely in imitation.

I already referred to Kayser's being included in recordings of organ music. The Parthia I, played here by Jürgen Essl, is a specimen of Kayser's organ works, or, rather, his output for keyboard, because the Op. 4 of 1746 includes pieces for Clavier, which indicates that they can be played on various keyboard instruments, such as the organ, the harpsichord and the clavichord. The liner-notes also mention the fortepiano, but at the time this collection was printed that instrument had hardly established itself as yet. The pieces recorded here are written in the galant idiom of the time. The Parthia I opens with a concerto, which is followed by a passepied and a gigue. It seems that Kayser in his keyboard works was influenced by the French style, in particular François Couperin.

This disc is a most interesting musical portrait of a forgotten composer from the mid-18th century. Although, if we believe Elizabeth Roche, Kayser's music is not really representative of what was written in southern Germany at the time, it offers some insight into the style of his time and region. If it is performed well, it has much to offer, even though it may not shock the world. I certainly would be interested in hearing some larger-scale works as those to which Roche refers.

Kayser's music is well served by the soloists, the choir and the well-known and outstanding instrumental ensemble Ars Antiqua Austria, with its director Gunar Letzbor. The soloists also participate in the tutti. Both choir and instrumental ensemble are rather small, and that could well be in line with the common performance practice in the convents of Kayser's time. Johanna Pommranz deserves special mention for her fine and technically accomplished performance of Sursum corda, even though she uses a bit too much vibrato.

It seems to me that choral directors should investigate Kayser's oeuvre, which could well be within the grasp of better-than-average choirs.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Orpheus Vokalensemble
Ars Antiqua Austria

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