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Georg MUFFAT (1653 - 1704): Missa In labore requies & Armonico tributo

[I] Missa In labore requies
Le Banquet Céleste (Damien Guillon); La Guilde des mercenaires (Adrien Mabire)
rec: Nov 26 - 29, 2022, Versailles, Chapelle Royale
Château de Versailles Spectacles - CVS106 (© 2023) (58'31")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Heinrich Ignaz Franz BIBER (1644-1704): Dixit Dominus; Georg MUFFAT: Missa In labore requies; Johann STADLMAYR (c1575-1648): Sonata à 13; Giovanni VALENTINI (c1582-1649): Canzona

Sources: Johann Stadlmayr, Apparatus musicus sacrarum cantionum ... 6–24 vocibus et instrumentis, 1645; Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Vesperae Longiores ac Breviores, 1693

[coro I] Violaine Le Chenadec*, Armelle Marcq, soprano; Marie Favier, contralto; Paul Fuguier, alto*; David Tricou*, Olivier Rault, tenor; Benoît Arnould*, Marc Busnel, bass
[coro II] Myriam Arbouz*, Marie Planinsek, soprano; Mélodie Ruvio, contralto*; Julien Freymuth, alto; Nicholas Scott*, Guillaume Gutierrez, tenor; Renaud Bres*, Emmanuel Vistorky*, bass
[coro III] Marie Rouquié, Simon Pierre, violin; Isabelle St-Yves, Christine Plubeau, viola da gamba; Thomas de Pierrefeu, violone
[coro IV] Adrien Mabire, Bork-Frithjof Smith, cornett; Alexis Lahens, Arnaud Brétécher, Abel Rochbach, sackbut
[coro V] Guy Ferber, Jean Bollinger, Darren Moore, Benoît Tainturier, Pierre-Yves Madeuf, trumpet; Laurent Sauron, timpani
[basso continuo] Jérémie Papasergio, bassoon; Kevin Manent-Navratil, harpsichord; Jean-Luc Ho, organ (soloa)

[II] Armonico tributo
Concerto Copenhagen
Dir: Lars Ulrik Mortensen
rec: August 16 - 19, 2020, Copenhagen, Garrison Kirke
Berlin Classics - 0302629BC (© 2022) (60'07")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Sonata I in D; Sonata II in g; Sonata III in A; Sonata IV in e; Sonata V in G

Antoine Torunczyk, Nienke van der Meulen, oboe; Jane Gower, bassoon; Fredrik From, Alison Luthmers, Kanerva Juutilainen, Jens Solgaard, Hannah Tibell, Gabriel Bania, Karin Samuelsson, Hanna Ydmark, violin; Antina Hugosson, Rastko Roknic, Jesenka Balic Zunic, Torbjörn Köhl, viola; Judith-Maria Blomsterberg, Thomas Pitt, cello; Megan Adie, double bass; Fredrik Bock, lute; Lars Ulrik Mortensen, harpsichord; Evelyn Laib, organ

Georg Muffat was one of the first composers who aimed at a merger of the different styles in vogue in Europe in the second half of the 17th century. This was the result of his journeys across Europe, which were partly the result of political circumstances. His (Catholic) family was of Scottish origin, and had left for Savoy for religious reasons. Early in his life he went to Alsace, on the brink of France and Germany and its respective cultures. He studied with Lully in France, and when he returned he continued his studies in two different Jesuit colleges. Under the threat of the war between France and the Netherlands from 1672 to 1678 he moved to Ingolstadt, and later travelled to Prague, Vienna and Olomouc. In 1678 he settled in Salzburg, where he entered the service of Prince-Archbishop Maximilian Gandolph von Kuenburg. The latter sent him to Rome, and there Muffat became acquainted with the Italian style, and in particular the music of Arcangelo Corelli.

When he returned to Salzburg, the relationship with his colleagues seems to have been rather problematic. In the preface to the Ausserlesene Instrumental-Music of 1701, he stated that he felt "the envy and resentment of his colleagues". This may have inspired him to look for employment elsewhere, especially after the death of his employer, who was succeeded by Johann Ernst Graf von Thun, who took drastic cost-cutting measures at the expense of his chapel. In 1690 Muffat moved to Passau, where he entered the service of Prince-Bishop Johann Philipp von Lamberg as Kapellmeister. There he remained until his death.

Muffat's oeuvre comprises nearly only instrumental music, published in several collections. The Missa In labore requies is his only extant sacred work. It is scored for 24 vocal and instrumental voices. It is not known when and for which occasion Muffat may have written this mass. Its name is hard to explain. "In labore requies" means "rest [art thou] in our toil" which is a phrase from the medieval Whitsun sequence Veni creator Spiritus. Ernst Hintermaier, in his liner-notes to a recording of this mass under the direction of Johannes Strobl, writes that the title is "rather unusual for the time and could point to the episcopal consecration on Pentecost Sunday in Passau Cathedral". It is known that this mass was performed there, but Peter Wollny, in the liner-notes to the present recording, states that the paper on which it is written, indicates that it was composed in Salzburg. He also refers to the title of a mass by Johann Caspar Kerll, the Missa In fletu solatium, whose title comes from the same sequence. If there is a connection with Whitsun, it can't be a speciality of Salzburg or Passau, as that mass was written in Vienna.

The scoring seems to confirm the connection to Salzburg, as its cathedral, completed in 1628, thanks to its four-pillar galleries offered the opportunity to perform polychoral music, in which the different groups could be positioned separately from each other. When Muffat arrived in Salzburg, Andreas Hofer was vice-Kapellmeister and was promoted to the position of Kapellmeister in 1679. His oeuvre includes a number of polychoral works. In 1682 the famous Missa Salisburgensis in 53 parts by Biber was performed to celebrate the 1100th anniversary of the founding of the bishopric. Whereas in many pieces for large groups, for instance those written in Rome (in a style musicologists have called Kolossalbarock) the focus is on the splendour of the musical fabric, with little room for text expression, Muffat's mass stands out for its many episodes where the text is depicted in the music. Often Muffat reaches this by reducing the number of voices. This mass includes several episodes for solo voice(s), which allow for a more detailed treatment of the text. He also adapts the instrumentation at particular important passages in the text, for instance when the trumpets play with mutes on the passage about the crucifixion in the Credo.

The sections of the mass are separated by music that dates either from a previous time or from after this mass was written. Giovanni Valentini was court organist in Vienna, but left no organ music. The Canzon is an instrumental piece in six parts, which is played here at the organ. Johann Stadlmayer was a contemporary of his, and was appointed Kapellmeister in Salzburg in 1604; three years later he moved to Innsbruck. The Sonata à 13 is taken from a collection of vocal and instrumental works for six to 24 voices, published in 1645. The Vesper psalm Dixit Dominus by Biber is from a collection of Psalm settings published in 1693, in which he had to follow the instructions of his then employer, which means that the scoring is much more modest; in earlier times he certainly would have made more of the text of Dixit Dominus.

Given the character of Muffat's mass, and the fact that it is his only vocal composition, it is not surprising that it has been recorded before. At least three earlier recordings are available, directed by Johannes Strobl (mentioned above), Gunar Letzbor and Konrad Junghänel. They all have their qualities and all of them do justice to this splendid work. As far as the present recording is concerned, it is generally very good and can compete with each of the earlier recordings. The singing and playing is first-class, as one may expect from these ensembles. The acoustic is not unproblematic, but Damien Guillon has managed to keep things under control which means that the text is mostly pretty well intelligible. There are a few issues, though. The first is that some of the singers are not entirely free of vibrato, which is not really disturbing, but disappointing nevertheless. The second is that the Latin text is pronounced the Italian way, which is unjustifiable: there can be no doubt that in Salzburg the German pronunciation was applied.

If one does have one of the previous recordings, among which I prefer Letzbor, there is probably no need to add this new recording to one's collection. If one does not own a recording of this mass, the present one is a good proposition.

On a technical note: Peter Wollny, in his liner-notes, mentions that two sonatas are included, by Johann Stadlmayr and Johann Heinrich Schmelzer respectively. The programme may have been changed after he had written them, as there is no sonata by Schmelzer included here, but rather a canzon by Valentini. He does discuss Schmelzer, but there is no word about Valentini.

The collection of sonatas which was published in 1682 under the title Armonico tributo, is undoubtedly Muffat's best-known work and very popular among today's performers, judging by the number of recordings in the catalogue. It was his first printed edition of pieces, and apparently his contribution - as the title indicates - to the celebrations mentioned above.

They are the fruit of Muffat's stay in Rome, where he had learnt quite a bit from Corelli. However, they are not entirely Italian in style, as here he already mixes the various styles he had become acquainted with. They reflect the influences of Lully in that they are written in five parts, which was common in France. But the core of these pieces is the combination of two violins and bass - the model of the Italian trio sonata. In his preface Muffat underlines the various possibilities with regard to scoring and the number of instruments involved. They could be performed with three, four or five instruments, but also with a large orchestra, split into a concertino and a ripieno, just like Arcangelo Corelli's Concerti grossi op. 8. During his stay in Rome he had the opportunity to hear Corelli direct his own Concerti grossi as well as playing with him. He was deeply impressed: "I first conceived the idea of this ingenious mixture while I was in Rome, where I studied the Italian manner on the organ and the harpsichord under the world-famous Sign.r Bernardo Pasquini; I heard with the greatest delight and admiration several most beautiful concertos [Suonate] by Sign.r Archangelo Corelli, the Orpheus of Italy on the violin, played with the greatest accuracy by a large number of musicians."

Although I don't know each of the recordings in the catalogue, I am probably not mistaken if I assume that most of them follow the basic line-up mentioned above, although the number of instruments involved may vary. I can't remember having heard them in the trio sonata line-up or with additional winds. The charm of the recording by Concerto Copenhagen is that here all three possibilities are demonstrated. The sonatas I, II and V are performed with a full orchestra of winds and strings. The Sonata IV, on the other hand, is played as a trio sonata. The Sonata III follows the standard scoring of two violins, two violas and basso continuo. From that angle alone this recording deserves its place in the catalogue.

Fortunately, that is not the only reason to recommend it, even to those who have one or several recordings in their collection. The level of playing is impressive, and two things which I have not always been satisfied with in previous recordings, are entirely convincing here. The first concerns the contrasts in tempi: Lars Ulrik Mortensen is, judging by his liner-notes, very aware of the dramatic features of these sonatas, and the contrasts between the movements and even within single movements. These are perfectly worked out through the choice of tempi. That goes along with another issue: dynamics. The wide dynamic range of these performances make them all the more exciting. These two aspects make sure that the last, and probably most famous, movement of the entire set, the passacaglia, in the form of a rondeau, is never repetitious. The alternation of winds and strings also works very well here.

In short, this is not just one performance among many, but one that has a character of its own. Muffat's sonatas never fail to compel, and Concerto Copenhagen fully explores their unique qualities.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

Relevant links:

Concerto Copenhagen
Le Banquet Céleste

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