musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Tormenti d'amore"

Philipp Mathmann, soprano
Capella Jenensis
Dir: Gerd Amelung

rec: Sept 30 - Oct 3, 2019, Jena, Friedenskirche
Querstand - VKJK 2002 (2 CDs) (© 2020) (82'14")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783): Lascia i fior; Non ti sovvien, mia Fille; Sonata a tre in A, op. 2,3; Sonata a tre in D, op. 2,6; Giuseppe PORSILE (1680-1750): Le sofferte amare pene; Georg REUTTER (jr) (1708-1772): Or che dorme l'idol mio; Paolo SCALABRINI (1719-1806): Sinfonia in D, op. 5,4 (formerly attr to Johann Adolf Hasse); Sinfonia in g minor, op. 5,6 (formerly attr to Johann Adolf Hasse)

Johann Adolf Hasse, Sei sonate a tre a due flauti o due violini col basso, c1739; Paolo Scalabrini, Six Simphonies a quatre parties, [op. 5], 1740

Pia Scheibe, transverse flute; Andrea Schmidt, Amber McPherson, violin; Daniela Döhler-Schottstädt, viola; Gertrud Ohse, viola da gamba, cello; Tillmann Steinhöfel, violone; Max Hattwich, archlute, chitarrone, guitar; Gerd Amelung, harpsichord

Music of the past has come down to us in many different ways. Many pieces have been preserved thanks to the collector's mania of individuals, either performers or aristocrats. An example of the first category is Johann Georg Pisendel, the concertmaster of the Dresden court chapel, who collected music - in particular by Italian composers - to be performed by the chapel. They have been preserved in the famous Schrank II in the Sächsische Landesbibliothek in Dresden. An example of the second category is the archive of Rudolf Franz Erwein von Schönborn, who used his diplomatic activities to collect as much music for the cello as he could lay his hand on. He was an avid amateur cellist, and he collected - and also commissioned composers to write - music for the cello for his own playing. However, there were also aristocrats who seem to have collected music for reasons of prestige, not so much because they wanted it to be performed at their court. That was apparently the case with Anton Ulrich of Saxe-Meiningen (1687-1763), who - being the fifth and youngest child - had little chance of ascending the throne of his father's little duchy. He made a career in the military and fought in the imperial army during the War of the Spanish Succession. He married a commoner and travelled to Vienna to obtain permission for his wife to ascend to the nobility. As a result, he became involved in the musical life of the city, and he copied pieces that he was interested in, "not necessarily to have them performed, but more to have them sent to the ducal treasure chest", Gerd Amelung states in the booklet to the production unter review here. Its starting point is the collection brought together by Anton Ulrich, which comprises 107 manuscripts with a total of 297 vocal compositions from Vienna, written between 1710 and 1740. Several of these pieces are not known from any other source, and that goes for the cantata by Reutter as well as the two cantatas by Hasse.

Johann Adam Joseph Karl Georg (von) Reutter, called usually called Georg Reutter (jr), was the son of Georg Reutter, organist at the imperial court in Vienna. From him Georg jr received his first music lessons. These were followed by a period of study with Antonio Caldara who was deputy Kapellmeister under Johann Joseph Fux. Various attempts to become court organist failed, as he was rejected by Fux. In 1729/30 he stayed in Italy, and after his return he was appointed court composer. In the next decade he developed into the leading composer of music for the theatre and oratorios. When his father died in 1738 he succeeded him as Kapellmeister of the Stephansdom; in this capacity he was also in charge of the choir school, to which belonged the Haydn brothers. Following the death of Fux Reutter became increasingly influential at the court, first as assistant of the Kapellmeister Predieri, later as second Kapellmeister and finally, from 1769 as court Kapellmeister. Since the late 1730s he turned his attention to church music, and around 1750 he was the leading composer of church music in Vienna. Because of various military conflicts the court was forced to reduce the budget for its musical establishment, and the number of musicians was strongly reduced. The largest part of his extant oeuvre consists of sacred music. A disc from 2012 ("Arie & Sinfonie") is devoted to secular pieces, but these are all arias from larger works. For Or che dorme l'idol mio the archive of Anton Ulrich is the only source, and as the work-list in New Grove does not mention any secular cantatas, one wonders whether it may be his only composition of this kind that has been preserved. It was copied in 1727, which means that it is an early work, written before Reutter focussed on the composition of sacred works. It comprises two arias, embracing a recitative. Notable is the first aria, in which the protagonist enjoys watching his beloved while she is asleep. This explains the strings playing pizzicato, reflecting the mood of intimacy.

Whereas Reutter plays a marginal role in modern performance practice, Johann Adolf Hasse is much better known and pretty well represented on disc. However, we only know a few of his many operas and other large-scale vocal works. As almost every opera composer he also wrote chamber cantatas, but this is a little-known part of his output. Only a few discs are devoted to this genre. The present production includes two, which are substantial contributions to our knowledge of Hasse as a cantata composer. Lascia i fior only survives in the Meiningen Archive, according to Amelung, but it is mentioned in New Grove with the addition "London, 1751", which seems to indicate that it was published there. It also mentions another source. It is again in two arias, separated by a recitative. The first aria has a lamenting character, whereas in the second the protagonist expresses his anger about an "unfaithful, ungrateful woman". Non ti sovvien, mia Fillide is for voice, strings and basso continuo. In New Grove it is ranked among the cantatas with orchestra, but that does not necessarily indicate that more than one instrument per part (as it is performed here) are needed. This cantata comprises two pairs of recitative and aria; the first aria has an operatic character, the second is a virtuosic aria in a fast tempo.

Giuseppe Porsile is another little-known composer; some time ago a disc was devoted to cantatas from his pen (which I hope to review in due course). He was from Naples and his first major post was that of vice-maestro di cappella of the royal chapel in Naples. In 1695 he moved to Spain with the duty of organizing the music chapel in Barcelona. After the death of Charles II he served Charles III, and accompanied him to Vienna, when he was crowned as Holy Roman Emperor. Porsile gave singing lessons to the dowager Empress Wilhelmina Amalia, and also worked as a composer. The largest part of his oeuvre comprises operas and oratorios, but he also wrote cantatas and duets. Le sofferte amare pene has been preserved in three copies, one of them in the Meiningen Archive. They are mainly different in the scoring of the two instrumental upper parts, for two flutes, two violins or - in the Meiningen Archiv - for flute and violin. In the first aria the protagonist expresses his "bitter pain"; the B section uses the image of storm, which is depicted by the instruments. The recitative is unusually long for a secular cantata. The last aria includes elements of operatic rage arias, and has some chromaticism.

The programme also includes two trio sonatas by Hasse from his Opus 2 which were published in Paris without the name of the composer. The two sonatas are different in character, representing two stages in the history of 18th century music that are present in Hasse's output. The two sinfonias Op. 5 are part of a set of six, also published without mentioning the composer in Paris and also attributed to Hasse. However, nowadays they are attributed to Paolo Scalabrini. I had never heard of him, and little seems to be known about him, as the article on Scalabrini in New Grove consists of only five lines. He travelled around as a member of an opera company, and acted as maestro di cappella at the Danish court from 1748 to 1753. He remained in Denmark and wrote several Singspiele. He later travelled across Europe, but returned to Copenhagen and was again maestro di cappella from 1775 to 1781; in that year he returned to Italy, and he died in Lucca. His sinfonias are in Neapolitan style, but also include elements of the Empfindsamkeit.

A production like this one cannot be appreciated enough, not only because it includes three pieces that seem not to be known from other sources than the Meiningen Archive, but also because all the music is little known. The instrumental works may have been recorded before, but Hasse's instrumental oeuvre is not often played as he is mainly seen as a composer of vocal music. In this case, the performance is also a major argument in favour of this set of discs. Philipp Mathmann is a young singer from Germany, who has already made a name for himself with recordings and concerts, for instance at some of the main festivals of early music. His voice is unique in that he is one of the few who is able to sing as a soprano. I am mostly sceptical about that; singers of this kind that I have heard, often sing or sang in a way that is hard to swallow and has little to do with baroque aesthetics. That is very different here. I first heard Mathmann in a recording of the oratorio La deposizione della croce by Franz Xaver Richter, and I greatly admired his voice and his way of singing. My positive impressions are confirmed here. He does more than producing brilliant high notes. We get a real interpretation of the cantatas here. He avoids any unnessary vibrato, his treatment of the text is excellent and he does not exaggerate in the addition of ornamentation and cadenzas. I also appreciate his stylish performance of the recitatives. This is how baroque music should be sung. I had never heard the Capella Jenensis; it is a very fine ensemble, which delivers outstanding performances of the instrumental parts in the vocal items and of the sonatas and sinfonias.

This is a production I strongly recommend to anyone who is eager to broaden his musical horizon and especially to those who would like to know what baroque singing is about.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Philipp Mathmann
Capella Jenensis

CD Reviews