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"Arias for Silvio Garghetti - The Habsburg Star Tenor"

Markus Miesenberger, tenor
Neue Wiener Hofkapelle
Dir: Markus Miesenberger

rec: Feb 20 - 23, 2017, St Florian (A), Augustiner Chorherrenstift (Altomontesaal)
Pan Classics - PC 10372 (© 2017) (62'32")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Antonio Maria BONONCINI (1677-1726): Arminio, poemetto drammatico (1706) (Per sentir di basa frode); La presa di Tebe, componimento per musica (1708) (Due numi del core); Giovanni BONONCINI (1670-1747): Il fiore delle Eroine, trattenimento (1704) (Farò guerra a la terra); Il ritorno di Giulio Cesare, festa (1704) (Ei già gode più sereno); Proteo sul Reno, poemetto drammatico (1703) (Il mio cor parla); Antonio CALDARA (1670-1736): Il Tiridate, overo La verità nell'inganno, dramma per musica (1717) (Nelle membra lacerate); Francesco Bartolomeo CONTI (1681-1732): Alba Cornelia, dramma per musica (1714) (Di mia glorie il vanto e'l fasto); Amore in Tessaglia, componimento da camera (1718) (Ardo anch'io ne son bastanti); Il finto policare, tragicommedia (1716) (Cieca amante, ingrata figlia; Se al mio braccio togliesti quel brando); Johann Joseph FUX (1660-1741): Dafne in Lauro, componimento per camera (1714) (Non è sol che col raggio vitale); Julio Ascanio, poemetto drammatico (1708) (Vola già di lido in lido); Pulcheria, poemetto drammatico (1708) (So che d'aquila è costume); JOSEPH I (1678-1711): Più d'ogni stella; Marc'Antonio ZIANI (1653-1715): La Flora, dramma per musica (1706) (Chi piacere altrui desia)

Franz Landlinger, trumpet; Fritz Kircher, Jolanta Sosnowska, violin; Peter Aigner, viola; Claire Pottinger-Schmidt, tenor viol; Peter Trefflinger, cello; Magdalena Schauer, double bass; Hubert Hoffmann, lute; Erich Traxler, harpsichord

In recent times quite a number of discs have been released which were devoted to the art of a famous opera singer of the 18th century. Most of them are sopranos or altos, either female or male. It doesn't happen that often that a disc is devoted to a lower voice, a tenor or a bass. This is partly due to the fact that in the baroque era composers and audiences strongly preferred high voices, not only in opera but in general. The fact that most chamber cantatas are also scored for such voices, attests to that. It was only in the classical period that lower voices were given more prominence in opera. That said, some discs have been released with arias from baroque operas for bass, mostly from operas by Handel.

The present disc is interesting for several reasons. First, it is devoted to a tenor, which is even less common than a programme about a bass. Second, the singer who is the inspiration for this recital is a rather unknown quantity. Very little is known about Silvio Garghetti, and quite some research was needed to give him a little more profile. Third, the repertoire dates from the early decades of the 18th century, which receives relatively little attention in our time. Moreover, the arias are taken from music performed at the imperial court in Vienna, and this is still largely unknown territory, if we compare it with the way opera in England (Handel) and Italy (Vivaldi) is treated. The composers represented in the programme were all famous for their operas - probably with the exception of Johann Joseph Fux - but these are hardly known and seldom performed. These factors alone are reason enough to welcome this disc.

Markus Miesenberger's research started when he found the name of "Silvio", without a surname, in the manuscript of an opera by Giovanni Bononcini. He decided to perform some of his arias in concerts and as he liked them, he decided to try to get to know more about him. He found the reference to a tenor, called Silvio Garghetti, in a dissertation and as no other tenor with that Christian name was active in Vienna between 1705 and 1740, he must have been the Silvio mentioned in the Bononcini score. Miesenberger found more references to him in other scores in the Austrian National Library in Vienna. It seems that he worked from 1702 until his death in 1729 at the imperial court in Vienna and was involved in 28 different opera and oratorio productions.

"The arias presented on this CD display a representative cross-section of operatic music performed at the Viennese Imperial court at the beginning of the 18th century", Miesenberger states in his liner-notes. This suggests that these arias are all specifically connected to Garghetti, or even written for him, but this is not entirely clear. Miesenberger should have been more specific. His ranking of these arias among "operatic music" is not entirely correct; some arias are from works that are ranked among the serenatas in New Grove. That said, Fux's Julio Ascanio and Antonio Bononcini's Arminio are both called poemetto drammatico, but whereas the former is ranked among Fux's operas in New Grove, the latter is listed among the serenatas. Apparently the different genres were not clearly separated at the time.

As I indicated, because of the repertoire and the fact that the music was written for a tenor, this disc deserves to be welcomed. Markus Miesenberger is probably not a household name. Some may know him mainly because he participated in recordings of sacred music under the direction of Gunar Letzbor. I have never really associated with opera, and having heard this disc I am not totally convinced that he is a natural opera singer. That said, he certainly has qualities which I appreciate, and that also goes for his approach to this repertoire. He generally avoids an incessant and wide vibrato as well as extravagant ornamentation and cadenzas. This deserves to be applauded, as these things often spoil my enjoyment of recordings of baroque vocal music. Moreover, he pays much attention to the text, which is pretty well intelligible - another rarity these days. I like the dynamic differentation within arias, between words and syllables. Miesenberger's interpretation is much more speechlike than I usually notice in comparable recordings.

However, his performances tend to be a little one-dimensional. True, he has selected arias of a different character, and that comes well off in his performance. But there is too little variety in vocal colours, and on long-held notes there is not enough dynamic differentiation. On the whole, I find his performances a bit too straightforward. It is probably not a good sign that I sometimes wished that an instrumental piece, such as an overture, had be included, just for the sake of variety. In addition, I am not convinced that Miesenberger made the right choices as far as the selection of arias is concerned. I like them, but some are so short that they hardly make any impression. In general I am not in favour of isolating arias from their dramatic context, but sometimes they are of such length and substance that it is not too much of a problem. Very short arias seem only to make sense if they are performed as part of a larger piece, such as a cantata.

Lastly, the Neue Wiener Hofkapelle plays well, but is rather small. These works were written by composers who for some time - or, as in the case of Caldara, for most of their life - worked at the court in Vienna. This suggests that they were performed not in a large opera house, but in the more intimate surroundings of the imperial palace. That seems to be confirmed by the descriptions of some of them, such as Fux's Dafne in Lauro and Conti's Amore in Tessaglia, which are called componimento per/da camera. It is probably impossible to say how many players were involved in such performances. Musically speaking, a performance with one instrument per part, as is the case here, is not fully satisfying.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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