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Franz Joseph AUMANN (1728 - 1797): Requiem

St. Florianer Sängerknaben; Ars Antiqua Austria
Dir: Gunar Letzbor

rec: April 23 - 26, 2008, Stift St. Florian
PanClassics - PC 10234 (© 2011) (48'01")

Ecce quomodo (arr. Anton Bruckner); Requiem; Te Deum; Tenebrae factae sunt (arr. Anton Bruckner)

[St. Florianer Sängerknaben] Benjamin Bayer (*), Stefan Boden, Martin Buchmann, Karlo Cagelj (*), Alois Mühlbacher, treble; Benjamin Lambrecht, Andreas Lehner, Xaver Lindlbauer (*), Simon Schwenoha, Martin Wild, boy alto; Bernd Lambauer (*), tenor; Ulfried Staber (*), bass [(*) soli]
[Ars Antiqua Austria] Marcel Plavec, Ales Rypan, oboe; Andreas Lackner, Herbert Walser, trumpet; Norbert Salvenmoser, Ercole Nisini, Bernhard Rainer, trombone; Rizumu Sugishita, timpani; Piroschka Batori, violin; Ilia Korol, violin, viola; Thomas Wall, cello; Jan Krigovsky, violone grosso; Norbert Zeilberger, organ

The Austrian violinist Gunar Letzbor likes to nose about in musical archives. He often comes up with surprising finds, in the past for instance the music of Romanus Weichlein, and more recently a composer with the name of 'Sign Mouthon'. This time he has searched the archive of the Augustinian Monastery St Florian, and found some music by Franz Joseph Aumann. On this disc four of his works have been recorded: a Requiem - one of the 12 he is assumed to have written -, a setting of the Te Deum, and two responsories.

Aumann began his career as a choirboy in the Vienna Jesuit hostel, and entered the St Florian monastery in 1753. In 1754 he took vows, was ordained a priest in 1757 and acted as regens chori from 1755 until his death. He composed a large oeuvre - the total number of his works is estimated at about 300. Only a part of his output has been preserved in the archive of the monastery. A considerable portion has been found elsewhere which is an indication of the appreciation by his contemporaries. Even after his death his music didn't stop to have an attraction, for instance on Anton Brucker who from 1845 to 1855 worked in St Florian as an assistent schoolteacher and singing instructor for the schoolboys. To the responsories Ecce quomodo and Tenebrae factae sunt he added three parts for trombones.

The liner-notes don't tell when the Requiem and the Te Deum were written. The second half of the 18th century sees the development from the late baroque to the classical style. But in particular in sacred music the style of the baroque era persisted, and was often mixed with more modern elements reflecting the classical style. That is also the case in these two pieces. Aumann was admired for his mastery of counterpoint, and that certainly comes to the fore here. The Te Deum, for instance, ends with a beautiful fugue. The instrumentation is also often remarkable, for instance the 'Tuba mirum' from the Requiem, which is a duet for soprano and alto, and begins with an introduction for the viola and the trombone.

The performance practice in this recording needs some attention. Sacred music of the classical era is immediately associated with Haydn and Mozart. They composed their religious music for institutions which had no lack of singers or instrumentalists. But in convents the situation was often very different. Most of them had only a handful of singers, and an instrumental ensemble of just two violins, a string bass and an organ was no exception. And at the end of the century the state of affairs became even worse, as a result of the reforms of the Austrian emperor Josef II. In 1790, for instance, the convent of St Florian only had two or three choirboys, and only two musicians had a steady job: a violinist and an organist. This justifies a performance of Aumann's music with six trebles - two of which sing the solo parts -, five boy altos - on of which acts as soloist -, and just one tenor and one bass, who sing solo and participate in the tutti. The instrumental ensemble is equally small, with one instrument per part.

The St. Florianer Sängerknaben are in the highest echelon of all-male choirs. They produce a strong, yet refined sound, and their singing is very speech-like, with much attention given to the communication of the text. This is very much in line with Gunar Letzbor's ideas on interpretation, as this disc shows. There are clear accents on the strong beats, and the rhythmic pulse is perfectly exposed, which gives the performances often an almost dance-like character. As the number of singers is small they don't dominate - there is a very good balance between the voices and the instruments, which also blend well. The solo sections are well executed - the boy alto has a rather remarkable voice, and the tenor and bass also do a fine job. Now and then I noticed some slips of the tongue - for instance "Tenebrae facta sunt" instead of "factae". It is a shame these minor errors have not been corrected.

This disc pays attention to a composer who may not be on equal footing with the great classical masters. But he certainly wasn't a mere footnote in music history - after all he was a personal friend of Johann Michael Haydn and Johann Georg Albrechtsberger. The music which is presented here is enjoyable and often individual in character. Gunar Letzbor and his musicians could hardly have argued more strongly in favour of Aumann's music. I certainly would like to hear more, preferably with this choir and ensemble.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

St. Florianer Sängerknaben
Ars Antiqua Austria

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