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"Auf Wiener Art - Music from the Habsburg Imperial Court"

Le Jardin Secret

rec: May 2009, London, St Silas the Martyr Church, Kentish Town
Coro - COR16074 (© 2009) (77'32")

Francesco CAVALLI (1602-1676): Giasone (Infelice che ascolto?); Antonio DRAGHI (1635-1700): Leonida in Tegea (Il destin gia s'č placato); Johann Jakob FROBERGER (1616-1667): Partita auff die Ma˙erin (FbWV 606); Johann Joseph FUX (1660-1741): Il Fonte della Salute (So che piace); Orfeo ed Euridice (Rondinella); Johann Caspar KERLL (1627-1693): Toccata III; LEOPOLD I (1640-1705): Ah quanto č vero (from: Antonio Cesti (1623-1669), Il pomo d'oro); Wie dringen dan auf mich; Georg MUFFAT (1653-1704): Sonata V (chaconne), arr for lute; Jacques DE SAINT LUC (1616-1710): Tombeau de Franēois Ginter; Antonio SARTORIO (1630-1680): Orfeo (Crude serpe; Son amante); Johannes SCHENCK (1660-c1712): Sonata VI [1]; Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (1623-1680): Stärcke der Lieb (Fliesse, fliesse bach der Threnen)

(Sources: [1] Johannes Schenck, L'echo du Danube, op. 9)

Elizabeth Dobbin, soprano; Romina Lischka, viola da gamba; Marian Minnen, cello, basse de violon; Sofie Vanden Eynde, theorbo, guitar; David Blunden, harpsichord

The Habsburg dynasty was one of the most powerful in Europe from the early 13th to the early 19th century. It also attracted the best musicians and composers to serve at its courts. Their high standard was a reflection of the power and splendour of the rulers. Until the early 17th century the Kapellmeister at the court of the Austrian Habsburgs was always a representative of the so-called 'Franco-Flemish school'. But in 1619, when Ferdinand II was elected as emperor, he replaced the musicians at the court in Vienna with the personnel of his own chapel in Graz. The new Kapellmeister was Giovanni Priuli, and with him the whole chapel came under Italian influence which should last until the early 19th century.

This disc offers a sampling of the repertoire performed at the court in Vienna. It contains vocal music, both secular and sacred, and music for solo instruments. Of course, music for instrumental ensemble was also performed at the court, but that repertoire is well documented on disc.

The Italian opera was very popular at the court in Vienna, and the imperial library contains several scores, for instance of operas by Venetian masters like Cavalli, Cesti and Sartorio. That doesn't mean these operas were performed in the court theatre. As Herbert Seifert writes in his programme notes, usually only operas by composers who were employed by the court were performed. An example is Leonida in Tegea by Antonio Draghi, which was performed on 9 June 1670 on the emperor's birthday.
It is assumed only fragments, and especially arias, from Venetian operas were performed. This disc contains several examples of such operas. Interesting is the fact that emperor Leopold I also was active as a composer himself. He sometimes contributed to operas by professional composers as 'Ah quanto č vero', which he wrote for a performance of Cesti's opera Il pomo d'oro.

He also wrote music for another genre of theatrical entertainment, the stage play. The programme contains some music Leopold wrote for the play 'Die vermeinte Brueder und schwesterlibe', which was performed in 1680 in Linz, where the court was temporarily establishing itself as Vienna was hit by the plague.

An important vocal genre was the oratorio which was usually performed during Lent and in particular during Holy Week. Many composers at the service of the court contributed to the genre. Here we hear an aria from Il Fonte della Salute by Johann Joseph Fux, who was Hofkapellmeister to emperor Karl VI. A specific genre of sacred vocal music was the sepolcro defined in New Grove as "a 17th-century genre of sacred dramatic music in Italian related to the oratorio and performed on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday at the Habsburg court chapels in Vienna". But not all sepolcri were in Italian: here we get an extract from the sepolcro Stärcke der Lieb by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. (The whole piece has been recorded by Il Concerto Barocco.)

Apart from the vocal items we hear some instrumental pieces. Johann Jakob Froberger and Johann Caspar Kerll who both went to Rome to broaden their horizon, where they got acquainted with the music of Frescobaldi and Carissimi. Both are represented here with harpsichord pieces. Georg Muffat had no official ties with the imperial court in Vienna, although Leopold I acted as his patron. In 1682 he published Armonico Tributo, a collection of five sonatas or concerti. The Sonata V in G ends with a passacaglia. The Chaconne played here is a abridged version of that passacaglia, transposed and intabulated for the lute. The programme notes don't tell who arranged it and if it was indeed performed at the Viennese court. Likewise it is not very clear what the connection of the Flemish lutenist and composer Jacques-Alexandre de Saint-Luc with the court in Vienna was. The only link seems to be that the Tombeau de Franēois Ginter was written at the occasion of the death of Franz Gindter, a soprano castrato at the imperial court.

Formally there was no link between Johannes Schenck and the Habsburg court either. Schenck was born in Amsterdam from German parents, and worked at the court of Prince Johann Wilhelm II in Düsseldorf. His collection of sonatas for viola da gamba, L'Echo du Danube, op. 9, was dedicated to the emperor - it isn't known exactly which one - but the programme notes fail to tell whether these sonatas have actually been played at the court.

Even if the choice of music is in a way questionable, as I have just argued, this disc gives a fairly good idea of the kind of music which was performed at the Habsburg court. The most convincing performances are the fragments from the sacred music, in particular the aria 'So che piace' from Fux' oratorio Il Fonte della Salute. The operatic pieces are far less successful, and that is mainly because the performances are not very theatrical. The scene from Giasone by Francesco Cavalli is a good example: the recitativic episode is too strict in rhythm and not speechlike enough, with too little dynamic contrast. This is music to be performed according to the principle of the recitar cantando, but Elizabeth Dobbin doesn't come close to that.

The harpsichord and lute pieces are neat and technically immaculate, but not very engaging and imaginative. As far as the instrumental items is concerned I was most impressed by Romina Lischka, who gives a fine account of the Sonata VI by Johannes Schenck.

All in all, this disc is certainly not bad, but could have been and should have been better. The booklet contains all lyrics with an English translation.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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