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CD reviews

Johann Adolf HASSE (1699 - 1783): Sacred works

[I] Requiem in C; Miserere in c minor
Marie Luise Werneburgb, Johanna Winkelab, soprano; Marlen Herzogb, Wiebke Lehmkuhlab, contralto; Colin Balzer, tenorab; Cornelius Uhle, bassab
Dresdner Kammerchor; Dresdner Barockorchester
Dir: Hans-Christoph Rademann
rec: Sept 4 - 6, 2010 (live), Marienberg, St. Marienkirche
Carus - 83.349 (© 2011) (70'15")
Liner-notes: E (abridged)/D/F (abridged); lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Miserere in c minora; Requiem in Cb

[II] Mass in D; Miserere in c minor
Maria Zádori, soprano; Kai Wessel, alto; Wilfried Jochens, tenor; Stephan Schreckenberger, bass
Rheinische Kantorei; Das Kleine Konzert
Dir: Hermann Max
rec: April 19 - 26, 1993d, April 24 - 30, 1995c, Neuss, Zeughaus
Capriccio - C 5125 (R) (© 2012) (55'47")
Liner-notes: E/D; no lyrics
Cover & track-list

Mass in d minorc; Miserere in c minord

"Few artists enjoyed such success and acquired such a remarkable reputation as Hasse; few have been forgotten more completely than he is now". These words were written in 1844 by one of the fathers of musicology, François Joseph Fétis, in his monumental Biographie universelle des musiciens. For a long time this verdict was correct; the exploration of Hasse's oeuvre is a relatively recent development, but hasn't really grown wings up to now. Most of his many works for the theatre, his oratorios or his cantatas are completely unknown, and only a small portion of his sacred works have been performed and recorded. It is a bit disappointing that Hans-Christoph Rademann has selected two compositions which have been recorded before; Hermann Max's interpretation of the Miserere in d minor was reissued recently.

Hasse was born in Bergedorf, near Hamburg, in a musical family. He was educated as a singer, and from an early age he was especially interested in opera. The Neapolitan opera was the fashion of the day, so he went to Naples to listen and learn. He was given lessons by Alessandro Scarlatti, and soon started to compose, especially serenatas and intermezzi. He quickly received the reputation of being able to compose at high speed, and as a result his output is huge. As so often, this has probably worked against him, suggesting that his compositions lack depth and expression.

In Naples he converted to Catholicism and in Venice he married Faustina Bordoni, one of the most celebrated opera singers of her time. In 1730 Hasse was granted the title of Kapellmeister of the court in Dresden, and in the next decades he spent much time there, although he also was active elsewhere, in particular in Venice and Vienna. In Dresden his opera Cleofide was performed in 1731, and Johann Sebastian Bach and his eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann attended the premiere which was a great success.

On 5 October 1763 Prince Augustus II died. His successor was facing a financial ruin, because of war expenditures and his father's generosity to a number of beneficiaries. Among them were Hasse and his wife, whose salaries were unequalled. The Hasse's were unceremoniously dumped, without even being granted a pension. They left Dresden for Vienna, where they were received with much respect.

On the occasion of Prince Augustus's death Hasse composed his Requiem in C, the main work on the Carus disc. It reflects both the splendour of Dresden's court and its chapel and the operatic style of Hasse. The scoring is lavish, and bears witness to the virtually unlimited possibilities court composers in Dresden had at their disposal. Apart from strings and basso continuo the orchestra contains pairs of transverse flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and trumpets plus timpani. In particular the use of trumpets and timpani is unusual; one rather expects them in a piece like a Te Deum. But this Requiem is probably more a celebration of Augustus's life and reign than a commemoration of his death. The opening movement is especially telling in this respect. The character indication, 'non troppo lento, ma maestoso', can be taken quite literally here - majestic.

In his Requiem Hasse is also unashamedly operatic: several solo episodes are treated like opera arias, and include virtuosic coloraturas and sometimes even cadenzas. Examples are 'Exaudi orationem meam' (Introitus), 'Mors stupebit' and 'Quaerens me' (Dies irae). This doesn't mean there are no passages which breathe the sphere of a Requiem Mass. The alto aria 'Recordare, Jesu pie' (Dies irae) is one of the most moving and expressive episodes of this work. In the same section the alto solo 'Inter oves' suddenly changes in character on the words "In supplication and prostrate before Thee, with broken heart and turned to ashes, I beg Thee to take care of my last hour". The last words just fade away on the repetition of a single note.

Hasse was not exactly a representative of the polyphonic tradition in Germany. Most tutti sections are homophonic, but now and then Hasse makes use of counterpoint, for instance in the Christe eleison which is a fugue. The opening section, 'Requiem aeternam', is repeated at the end. They are followed and preceded respectively by a short section in plainchant, sung by the tenors and basses of the choir: 'Te decet hymnus' (Thou shalt have praise in Zion) and 'Lux aeterna luceat eis' (May eternal light shine upon them).

This work may have operatic traits, Rademann has opted for a rather restrained approach: dynamically the performance is on the moderate side, and the soloists avoid to sing as they were in a real opera. This seems to me quite right; this Requiem's extended scoring results in a large amount of solemnity which suits the text and the occasion for which the work was written quite well. The soloists deliver fine performances, although now and then some use a little more vibrato than they should. Wiebke Lehmkuhl stands out with her sensitive interpretation of her solos, especially the aria 'Inter oves'.

Hasse's activities in Dresden didn't prevent him from being active elsewhere, for instance in Venice, where he was appointed maestro di coro of the Ospedale degli Incurabili. For this institution for orphans and foundlings he composed a setting of the poenitential psalm Miserere mei Deus. As the Ospedale only accepted girls all the parts - tutti and soli - were scored for female voices (SSAA). For Dresden he adapted this setting in c minor for a 'normal' SATB scording. Obviously the upper parts were not sung by women, but by boys and men.

In my experience it isn't always easy to get used to Hasse's art of writing sacred music. Sometimes one feels a clash between the text and the music, for instance in the short solo for the bass, 'Tibi soli peccavi'. It is rather odd to hear a truly operatic aria on a text like this: "Against thee only have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified in thy saying, and clear when thou art judge". The 'Gloria Patri' is a solo for alto, and ends with a cadenza on "Sancto". There are certainly moments of true expression, though; for instance the solo sections in 'Ecce enim in iniquitatibus', first for soprano and alto and then for alto and tenor.

Both performances of the Miserere in c minor are good, although I slightly prefer Max. Unfortunately the soprano soloists in both recordings use a bit too much vibrato, but the blending of the solo voices in Hermann Max's recording is slightly better than in Rademann's.

The largest work in the recording by the Rheinische Kantorei and Das Kleine Konzert is the Mass in d minor which was performed in June 1751 as part of the dedication of the Hofkirche in Dresden. As in the Requiem the tutti sections are mostly homophonic, although Hasse here too makes use of counterpoint, for instance in fugal sections, such as Kyrie eleison II. The Christe eleison is - as in so many mass settings of the 18th century - a duet, here for soprano and alto, a piece of great beauty. In the 'Crucifixus' Hasse seizes the opportunity to add expressive emphasis to the text with some incisive dissonants. The Gloria, on the other hand, includes two operatic arias, 'Domine Deus' for soprano and 'Qui tollis' for tenor, the latter with interventions by the choir.

Max has a good ear for selecting the soloists for his performances and recordings, and that is also the case here. Mária Zádori has frequently worked with him and knows what to do. In some other recordings of hers a wobble creeps in, but that is not the case here. The other singers are all stylish. The Rheinische Kantorei is known for its excellent delivery, which is something Hermann Max pays much attention to. Because of that it isn't that much of a problem that the booklet of his recording omits the lyrics. Moreover, these can easily be found at the internet. That said, it is not as it should be.

These two recordings convincingly demonstrate the features of Hasse's sacred music and should rouse the interest in his output in this genre.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Dresdner Kammerchor
Dresdner Barockorchester
Rheinische Kantorei

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