musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"La Dresda Galante"

Miriam Feuersinger, sopranoa
Zürcher Barockorchester
Dir: Renate Steinmann

rec: Oct 7 - 10, 2013, Zurich, Radiostudio SRF (Studio 1)
Klanglogo - KL1508 (© 2014) (76'23")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710-1784): Concerto for harpsichord, strings and bc in D (F 41 / BR WFB C 9)c; Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783): Alta nubes illustrata, moteta; Johann Daviod HEINICHEN (1683-1729): Concerto à 7 in G (S 215); Giovanni Alberto RISTORI (1692-1753): Lavinia a Turno, cantataa; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto in g minor (RV 577)b;

Sibylle Kunz, Martina Joos, recorder; Jelina Deuter, Aleksandr Fester, oboe; Julia Marion, bassoon; Renate Steinmann (solob), Olivia Schenkel, Salome Zimmermann, violin; Susanna Heft, viola; Jonathan Pesek, cello; Markus Bernhard, violone; Jermaine Sprosse, harpsichord (soloc)

For several centuries the court of the Electors of Saxony in Dresden was one of the centres of culture and music in Germany. It experienced its heydays under the rule of Friedrich August I, nicknamed 'the Strong' (1670-1733), and his son Friedrich August II (1696-1763). Musically it was under the spell of the Italian style, especially since the latter had visited Italy as part of his Grand Tour. In his retinue was the violinist Johann Georg Pisendel, who was later to become the chapel's concertmaster. He became acquainted with two of the main composers for his own instrument, Antonio Vivaldi and Tomaso Albinoni, who gave him some of their compositions. Frederick August heard cantatas by the German composer Johann David Heinichen, who had travelled to Italy to broaden his musical horizon, and developed a truly Italian style. The result of this acquaintance was his engagement as Hofkapellmeister. The present disc includes music by three composers who played a key role at the Dresden court.

It makes much sense that the programme opens with a piece by Antonio Vivaldi. Thanks to Pisendel the library of the court chapel includes the largest collection of Vivaldi scores outside Italy. The Concerto in g minor was specifically written for the Dresden chapel as the addition per l'orchestra di Dresda indicates. It is a specimen of a particular genre in Vivaldi's oeuvre, known as concerti con molti stromenti, which are scored for a mixture of strings and winds, and in which several instruments have solo episodes to play. The main role as a solo instrument in the Concerto in g minor is allocated to the violin. Shorter episodes are given to two recorders, two oboes and bassoon. The concerti of Heinichen are clearly influenced by Vivaldi and especially these concertos for multiple instruments. The Concerto à 7 in G has solo episodes for two recorders, two oboes and two violins. Interestingly the score includes a reference to the bass recorder, which once in a while should enter during solo passages; it is not used in the present performance. Heinichen did not follow Vivaldi's three-movement structure: this concerto is in four movements: andante e staccato, vivace, largo and vivace; the latter turns to an adagio towards the end.

Like Heinichen, Johann Adolf Hasse was of German birth, but strongly Italian in his orientation as a composer. He was considered one of the main composers of Italian operas in the mid-18th century; they were performed across Europe, from Venice to Dresden and from Vienna to London. In 1731 he was appointed Hofkapellmeister as successor to Heinichen, who had died two years before. Hasse also composed liturgical music - masses, offertories, antiphons, hymns - and motets on extra-liturgical texts. Stylistically the latter show a strong similarity with secular cantatas and with opera. Like the solo motets of Vivaldi, they offered the soloist the opportunity to show his or her skills. Alta nubes illustrata is a good example of this genre. If one would not know the text, one could easily take it for a secular cantata. It opens with an aria which is technically demanding, for instance because of the wide tessitura. It is followed by an accompanied recitative and another aria. The motet closes with an 'Alleluia', again in the form of an aria.

Whereas the main composers at the court were German, Giovanni Alberto Ristori was of Italian birth. He was born as the son of the director of a travelling company of Italian comedians. They were at the service of the Saxon elector Johann Georg III (predecessor of Friedrich August I) shortly before Ristori was born. When he was in his early 20s and already married, he joined his father when the company settled again in Dresden. At that time Friedrich August I was elector and also King of Poland (as August II). Ristori had already made a name for himself with his opera Orlando, which had been performed to great acclaim in Venice. His first opera in Dresden, Cleonice, performed in 1718, earned also much success. In the 1720s he composed two comic operas. However, because of the dominance of Hasse in the field of opera, he focused largely on the composition of sacred music. Even so, he composed a number of secular cantatas, which probably were written for performance at the court concerts in the Dresden Palace. It is interesting that his cantatas indicate various ways of performance. One option was a line-up for private performances, with two violins, viola and an un-figured bass part. The second was a larger-scale performance with strings and two oboes playing colla parte with the violins. The present performance is not very consistent in that its line-up suggests the middle way between twose two options: two oboes, three violins, viola and bc, the latter including a bassoon. The story of Lavinia a Turno is taken from Virgil's Aeneid, and is about King Latino giving his daughter Lavinia in marriage to Aeneis, who kills Turno, to whom Lavinia was promised. This cantata is very close to opera. The recitatives are all accompanied and dramatic in character. The opening recitative begins with a short instrumental introduction; the first aria follows attacca. All the arias include cadenzas.

Lastly Wilhelm Friedemann Bach: in 1733 he was appointed organist of the Sophienkirche, which was attended by Protestant members of the court. Although not formally connected to the court, there are reasons to believe, that he played a role in musical life there, and knew several of the main musicians at the court, such as Pisendel and the lutenist Silvius Leopold Weiss. A considerable number of instrumental works from his pen were written during this time, and that could include the Concerto in D for keyboard, performed here. The solo part attests to the composer's own skills as a player of the keyboard, for which he was famous. Especially the third movement includes passages with the quirky harmonies, which are so typical for his style and manifest themselves in his pieces for solo keyboard.

Jermaine Sprosse is responsible for a fine performance of the solo part. Renate Steinmann does well in Vivaldi's concerto. Miriam Feuersinger has made much impression recently with recordings of sacred music by German composers. That is her core business, as the biography in the booklet indicates. Stylistically her performances here are pretty much ideal. I am much more satisfied with her singing in Ristori's cantata than with that of Maria Savastano, who recorded the same cantata with the Ensemble Diderot. However, here and also in Hasse's motet Ms Feuersinger's performance is a bit too restrained. The dramatic aspects don't fully come off. On the basis of what I have heard here I don't see much future for her in the opera department. I wish, though, that some performers of baroque opera would adopt her stylistic approach.

All said and done, there is every reason to be happy with this disc. The programme is varied and interesting, and the performances of soloists and orchestra vary from good to excellent. The vocal oeuvre of both Hasse and Ristori definitely deserves much more attention than it has been given so far.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Miriam Feuersinger
Zürcher Barockorchester

CD Reviews