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Josef MYSLIVECEK (17377 - 1781): Adamo ed Eva

Roberta Mameli (Angelo di Giustizia), Alice Rossi (Angelo di Misericordia), soprano; Luciana Mancini (Eva), mezzo-soprano; Valerio Contaldi (Adamo), tenor
Il Gardellino
Dir: Peter Van Heyghen

rec: August 7 - 10, 2018, Bruges, PZ Onzelievevrouw (chapel)
Passacaille - 1053 (2 CDs) (© 2019) (2.04'30")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/NL; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Jan De Winne, Christine Debaisieux, transverse flute; Marcel Ponseele, Lidewei De Sterck, oboe; Margreet Bongers, bassoon; Bart Cypers, Mark De Merlier, horn; Moritz Görg, Pavel Janecek, trumpet; Christophe Robert, Francesco Bergamini, Noyuri Hazama, Jivka Kaltcheva, Danuta Zawada, Birgit Goris, Michiyo Kondo, Marie Toriu, violin; Kaat De Cock, Ingrid Bourgeois, viola; Ira Givol, Phyllis Bartholomeus, cello; Frank Coppieters, double bass; Kris Verhelst, harpsichord

In the course of the 18th century quite a number of performing musicians and composers from Bohemia left their homeland to look for work elsewhere. Some travelled through Europe and performed as virtuosos on their instrument in public concerts, others settled in Vienna, which was one of the main centres of music of Europe. There were also some who went to Italy to broaden their horizon, especially in the field of opera. One of them was Josef Myslivecek.

After being trained as a master baker, he soon turned to music. At first he concentrated on playing the violin, but in November 1763 he went to Venice to take lessons from Giovanni Battista Pescetti, especially in writing recitatives. As a result he started to compose operas. His breakthrough as an opera composer came when the Teatro di S. Carlo in Naples commissioned him to write an opera. Il Bellerofonte was first performed in January 1767. By 1770 he had come to such fame that Leopold Mozart, travelling through Italy with his son Wolfgang, paid him a visit, which resulted in a friendship which lasted for a number of years. Towards the end of the 1770s his glory faded and he didn't enjoy as much success as before. In addition to that, his health deteriorated, and he became increasingly socially isolated. He died in 1781 and was buried in Lucina.

Although in recent years there seems to be an increased interest in his oeuvre, Myslivecek is still an underrated composer from the classical era. Peter Van Heyghen, in his liner-notes to the present recording, discusses this issue. First of all, he mentions the fact that Myslivecek died at a relative young age. He compares him to Haydn: "If Haydn had died at the same age as Myslivecek, he too would quite possibly have remained in obscurity, his great talent notwithstanding." However, Myslivecek's oeuvre is certainly not small: he has left a considerable number of operas, oratorios, cantatas, liturgical works and instrumental music, from symphonies to keyboard works. The second reason may be more relevant: when Myslivecek was still in the stage of developing his skills as a composer, the brilliant young Mozart appeared on the scene. "Myslivecek's star (...) was not bright enough to remain visible when placed so close to Mozart's." The relative neglect is a fate he shares with other composers of the classical era. That is the third reason Van Heyghen mentions: the almost complete focus of musicologists and performers on the Viennese representatives of the classical period. Even the likes of Boccherini and Jommelli, to mention just a couple of the better-known, are overshadowed by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

Thanks to some adventurous performers, among them Peter Van Heyghen, the music lovers of today have the opportunity to become acquainted with music by some of the neglected masters from the late 18th century. Recently a recording of two sacred works by Niccolò Jommelli was released (to be reviewed in due course) and this recording of one of Mylivecek's oratorios is also an important and welcome contribution to our knowledge of the classical era beyond what was produced by the three great masters from Vienna.

Myslivecek composed eight oratorios. Four of these have been lost. In 2005 Capriccio released a recording of his Passion oratorio La Passione di nostro Signore Gesu Cristo, directed by Christoph Spering. The three remaining oratorios are about biblical figures: Tobia (Il Tobia, 1769), Isaac (Isacco figura del redentore, 1776) and Adam and Eve. The latter are the title characters in Adamo ed Eva, which dates from 1771. It is in two parts and scored for four solo voices and an orchestra of strings and basso continuo with pairs of transverse flutes, oboes, horns and trumpets as well as a bassoon. The libretto is from the pen of the Jesuit priest Giovanni Granelli, known as an author of tragedies and Bible commentaries. Baldassare Galuppi was the first composer who set this libretto (1747).

The four characters are Adam (tenor) and Eve (alto) and two angels, the Angel of Justice (Angelo di Giustizia) and the Angel of Mercy (Angelo di Misericordia). The story is well-known: Adam and Eve, the first pair of human beings, created by God, fall in sin, when a serpent (the devil) deceives Eve into eating fruit from the forbidden tree, and she gives some of the fruit to Adam. They have to deal with the wrath of God, and the pair is driven from paradise. In this oratorio, it is the Angel of Justice who announces the punishment, but thanks to the intervention of the Angel of Mercy, they don't get the full punishment they deserve. The role of the latter is a clear reference to the role of Christ as mediator between God and man.

This oratorio is not fundamentally different from the operas of the time. The arias are strongly operatic, and Peter Van Heyghen rightly inserted cadenzas in them. (It is a matter of debate whether these should be written out by the musical director, rather than improvised by the singers.) The recitatives are nearly all of the secco type, which is notable, and can probably explained from the fact that this oratorio includes no real dramatic action, which would profit from accompanied recitatives. Every character has three arias to sing. In addition, there are three duets: two of Adam and Eve and one of the two angels. Some arias are of the traditional dacapo type, but others are in a more modern compact sonata form. It is notable that all arias are in the major, except two arias - one of Adam and one of Eve - which are in the minor. These are likely the two arias in the second part, 'Amare lagrime' (Adam) ("Bitter tears, flow in torrents") and 'Se al Ciel miro!' (Eve) ("I look upon the heavens and behold their wrath"). These are the expressive highlights of this oratorio, where Myslivecek displays his skills in the musical translation of the emotions of characters. The roles of the two angels are also clearly differentiated in his score.

This is a production which fully deserves the interest of any lover of 18th-century vocal music. Adamo ed Eva is a work of fine quality, and Myslivecek shows himself here as an outstanding composer for the voice. It is a matter of good fortune that the performance is nearly ideal. That is probably not a real surprise, as Peter Van Heyghen has shown in the past to have a good and critical ear for voices. Valerio Contaldo and Luciana Mancini shine in the title roles. They manage to convincingly express the various emotions and the respective states of mind of Adam and Eve. The voices of Roberta Mameli and Alice Rossi are different enough to tell them apart and suit their respective roles very well. The contrasts between them come off perfectly in their dialogues. Stylistically they are quite convincing as well. Only Mameli now and then uses a bit too much vibrato, but it is has no real damaging effect on the outcome of this recording. The recitatives are taken with enough freedom, although I personally would have liked the singers to go a bit further in this department. Il Gardellino delivers powerful and colourful performances of the orchestral score.

It is to be hoped that this recording will contribute to a revaluation, not only of Myslivecek and his oeuvre, but also more generally of the Italian branch of the classical style.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Roberta Mameli
Alice Rossi
Il Gardellino

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