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"Discorsi Musicali - Musik am Münchener Hof unter Kurfürst Maximilian II Emanuel" (Music at the Munich Court under Elector Maximilian II Emanuel)

Ida Aldrian, mezzo-sopranoa
Ensemble Castor

rec: August 18 - 19, 2014, Linz, Bruckner Privatuniversität (large hall)
Ensemble Castor - SW 010468-2 (© 2014) (52'17")
Liner-notes: D; lyrics - translations: D
Cover & track-list

Johann Caspar KERLL (1627-1693): Toccata I in d minorb; Sonata à 2; Rupert Ignaz MAYR (c1646-1712): Aria con variazioni; Ave Regina coeloruma; Sonata in D; Trio sonata in d minor; Georg MUFFAT (1653-1704): Ciacona in Gb [2]; Agostino STEFFANI (1654-1728): Il più felice e sfortunato amantea [1]

Sources: [1] Agostino Steffani, Scherzi Musicali, [n.d.] [2] Georg Muffat, Apparatus musico-organisticus, 1690

Petra Samhaber-Eckhardt, Lukas Praxmarer, violin; Peter Trefflinger, cello; Hubert Hoffmann, lute; Erich Traxler, harpsichord (solob)

Music at the Bavarian court in Munich is inextricably linked to two composers: Orlandus Lassus in the second half of the 16th century and Agostino Steffani in the second half of the 17th. In the first half of the 17th century the court experienced a kind of cultural stagnation, mainly as the effect of the Thirty Years War. It was thanks to the Elector Ferdinand Maria (1636-1679) and his son Maximilian II Emanuel (1662-1726) that musical life at the court flourished during the latter decades of the 17th and the early decades of the 18th century.

Despite the many political upheavals during the reign of the latter, the chapel was never disbanded. For most of his time his chapel was one of the larger in Germany. In the year he succeeded his father it comprised 29 instrumentalists, including 17 trumpets, and 30 singers. They did not always perform together. For most of the chapel's duties it was split up into small ensembles, which performed during meals, political events and religious services. Due to political developments the chapel was reduced in the next decades, but in 1715 it was restored to its former glory, with 21 singers, 40 instrumentalists and 18 trumpets and timpani.

The present disc includes music by some of the main musicians in the service of the court. Johann Caspar Kerll is best known for his activities as organist at the imperial court in Vienna, but from 1656 to 1673 he was Kapellmeister in Munich. The programme opens with one of his very few chamber music works, a sonata for two violins and bc. It is written in the then common stylus phantasticus: it comprises a sequence of short contrasting sections, which are not formally separated. The Toccata I reflects the influence of the Italian style, in particular Frescobaldi, and is the result of Kerll's years of study in Rome.

Next follows the best-known figure at the court: Agostino Steffani. He was educated as a singer and performed at an early age as a treble. He went to Munich at the age of 13, where he received keyboard lessons from Kerll. He then went to Rome and studied composition with Ercole Bernabei. It is possible that there he already started to compose chamber duets, a genre which would make him especially famous. When Bernabei was appointed Kapellmeister in Munich, Steffani returned with him. Under the Elector Maximilian II Emanuel his career came off quickly. He composed his first opera which shows the influence of Lully; it was followed by other operas, some on librettos by his brother. In Munich he started his activities in the diplomatic sphere. In 1688 he entered the service of Duke Ernst August of Hanover. The cantata included here is included in a set of six Scherzi for solo voice, two violins and bc, which date from shortly before 1694, well after his departure from Munich, and were probably written for Francesco II d'Este. These pieces open with a preludio, which is followed by two pairs of recitative and aria.

The least-known composer included here is Rupert Ignaz Mayr. He was born in Schärding, near Passau, but nothing is known about his musical education. In 1670 he entered the service of the Prince-Bishop of Freising as a violinist. From 1683 he worked at the court in Munich, where he not only acted as violinist but also started to compose. In 1706 he returned to Freising to work as Kapellmeister and composed religious and instrumental music. There he also wrote a number of school operas to be performed by the students of the episcopal seminary. Mayr was a brilliant violinist, which comes to the fore in the Sonata in D, which was not printed and was probably written for his own use. It also shows that Mayr's instrumental music, of which very little has been preserved, is rooted in the tradition of the likes of Biber and Schmelzer. Especially the first movement of this sonata includes some effects which remind me of the descriptive pieces by Biber. Of the same standard is the Aria con variazioni in E. Trio sonatas were mostly less virtuosic, and that also goes for the Sonata in d minor, which precedes the model developed by Arcangelo Corelli. It comprisis six movements, some of which come without a tempo indication. This piece includes some episodes for solo violin.

The setting of the Marian antiphon Ave Regina coelorum also reminds me of Biber, who composed several sacred concertos for voice, violin and bc, in which voice and violin are of equal importance. That is the case here as well. The piece is divided into two sections, both of which open with a long and virtuosic introduction for the violin. Then the singer enters, who dwells on the first syllable ("Ave" and "Gaude" respectively) over a pedal point. The violin part is technically much more demanding than the vocal part.

The disc ends with a piece by Georg Muffat, who had no ties to the Munich court, but is included here because he seems to have been close to Mayr as for some time both were in the service of the court in Passau. Muffat was an early advocate of the mixture of the Italian and French styles, but his collection of toccatas, Apparatus musico-organisticus, which also includes the Ciacona in G, is in the Italian style, and not fundamentally different from the toccata by Kerll.

It is a shame that this disc's playing time is a bit short. I also wonder how easily it will be available, as it is the ensemble's own production. So far I have not seen it on the main retail sites. However, I urge anyone who likes this kind of music to search for it, because this disc includes some excellent music, which receives quite impressive performances. The playing is outstanding, both of the string sonatas and of the keyboard works. Mayr's Sonata in d minor is a quite exciting piece, and I also like his motet Ave Regina coelorum very much. Ida Aldrian is announced as a mezzo-soprano, but her low notes are quite strong. That perfectly suits the two vocal items. Steffani's cantata is sung nicely; here I would have liked a little more rhythmic freedom in the recitatives.

In particular Mayr has remained a bit under the radar to date; he is not well represented on disc. In particular because of his music I strongly recommend this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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