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Amando IVANCIC O.S.P.P.E. (1727 - before 1762): Sacred and instrumental music

La Tempesta
Dir: Jakub Burzynski

rec: Jan 2007, Warsaw, Lutheran Holy Trinity Church
Dux - 0355a, 0358b (© 2008) (73'56"a, 66'14"b)

Divertimento ex Ga; Divertimento ex Ba; Lytaniae ex Ca; Missa in Ca; Missa in C Majoreb; Vesperaeb

The fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 didn't have only political implications, it also changed the cultural landscape in Europe. Musicians from what once was the Eastern Bloc got free access to the newest developments in the performance of early music. It didn't take long before they founded their own ensembles and visited the West, not as students anymore, but as interpreters in their own right. But the 'early music movement' isn't just about performance practice, it also regards interest in parts of Europe's musical heritage which so far have hardly been explored. Musicians and ensembles from Eastern Europe started to research their own musical past, and recordings with music by composers hitherto unknown are the result of this development.

The present discs are evidence of this. Music by Amando Ivancic was discovered in the monastery of Jasna Góra in Poland, and this has led to more extensive research. Manuscripts with his music have been found in many countries in Europe, including Slovakia, Croatia and Hungary, but also Germany and most recently Belgium. Such a wide dissemination of music usually indicates a great appreciation of the composer. Therefore it is rather surprising that he was completely unknown. Even New Grove, which contains information about many composers almost unknown in our time, doesn't have an entry on Ivancic.

Very little is known for sure about his life. He was baptised on 24 December 1727 in Wiener Neustadt; his father was of Croatian origin (he came from a region which now belongs to the Austrian Burgenland). He joined the Pauline Order in 1744 and adopted the name of Amandus. Since 1755 he lived in the Maria Trost Pauline Monastery near Graz. He had close contacts with the Jesuits from St Ägidius Cathedral in Graz, writing music for them. And that is practically everything that is known of his life.

Right now musicologists are putting together a catalogue of Ivancic's works. The present discs are giving an idea about the character and quality of his oeuvre. As one may expect from a man of the church Ivancic's output is largely sacred, but the first disc also contains two instrumental works. As their titles suggest they are stylistically close to the classical era, whereas his vocal works contain still strong baroque traits.

The sacred pieces on these discs are mainly set for four voices, two violins, two trumpets and bc. Now and then they reminded me of the sacred music written in Austria around 1700, by the likes of Biber and Schmelzer. That is particularly the case when the trumpets are used. Ivancic's music is often quite original in the way he juxtaposes solo passages or duets and tutti, or how he varies tempo and rhythm. He also regularly singles out specific parts of the text, like "pax" and "miserere" in the Gloria of the Missa in C Majore. In his music Ivancic shows a thorough command of the tools a composer of his time had at his disposal in order to translate a text into music.

According to the booklets the recordings for these two discs were made at about the same time. It puzzles me that this has resulted in performances which are quite different. To be honest, the second disc - which I listened to first - is a major disappointment. While listening I heard many interesting things, but these were mostly spoilt by performances which are adequate at best, but never really good. Too often the intonation of the players is suspect; there is also a lack of dynamic contrast. The solo passages are sung by members of the ensemble (the booklet doesn't tell who sings what) and their contributions are mostly just not good enough. For instance, in the 'Quia fecit' from the Magnificat the soprano isn't able to sing the top notes properly. The sound of the ensemble as a whole is also unsatisfying, partly because of a lack of really good blending of the voices. As a result this disc only gives a vague idea of the quality of Ivancic's music.

In comparison the first disc is much better. Most solo passages are sung really well. For instance, in the Gloria the duets of tenor and bass and of soprano and alto respectively as well as the soprano solo are very good. Here Ivancics music really comes to life. The sound of the ensemble is better and so is the intonation of the players. And in both vocal works the dynamic contrasts are much better worked out. The two divertimenti are given energetic and flamboyant performances.

I therefore can only recommend the first disc; the second is probably only of interest to those who are curious about unknown repertoire no matter how it is performed. Even though the results of the exploration of Ivancic's music are variable, we should be grateful for this kind of projects. It just shows what a systematic research of the archives of churches, monasteries, castles etcetera can yield.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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