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Johann Adolf HASSE (1699 - 1783): "Complete Solo Cantatas, Volume One"


rec: March 10 - 12, 2015, Prague, Villa Bertramka (Salla Terrena)
Toccata Classics - TOCC 0228 (© 2016) (68'22")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Ah, per pietade almenoa; Credi, o caro, alla speranzaa; Lascia i fior, l'erbette, e'l rioa; Oh Dio! partir convieneb; Parto, mia Filli, č verob; Tanto dunque č si reob

Jana Dvoráková, sopranoa; Veronika Mrácková Fuciková, mezzo-sopranob; Rozálie Kousalíková, cello; Ondrej Macek, harpsichord

Johann Adolf Hasse was one of the most celebrated composers in Europe in the decades around 1750. That especially concerns his activities in the field of opera. His operas were performed across Europe, in particular in Germany, Austria and Italy. He was in an almost ideal position in that his own wife, the famous mezzo Faustina Bordoni, often participated in the performances of his operas. He surely must have written many roles with her specific vocal and acting qualities in mind.

Opera takes the largest part of his oeuvre. The list of operas from his pen in New Grove is astonishing. Add to that a large number of serenatas and oratorios and one understands that he had a special gift for drama. No wonder that he also contributed to the genre of the chamber cantata which was one of the most popular forms of secular vocal music. Such cantatas were especially popular in the arcadian academies which were founded across Italy since the late 17th century. They were mostly scored for a solo voice - usually soprano or alto - with basso continuo. Sometimes a composer added one or two melody instruments: transverse flute and violin were the most common options; sometimes composers turned to the recorder or the oboe. Hasse composed cantatas of both types and in addition also wrote cantatas with a larger instrumental ensemble. The present disc is the first in a project, which focuses on the solo cantatas. There is no indication whether the latter category - cantatas with 'orchestra' - will also be included. Without any doubt this is a highly interesting and important project, especially as not that many of Hasse's cantatas are available on disc.

In Hasse's time there was a close connection between opera and cantata. Both consist of a sequence of recitatives and arias and both make use of coloratura and the various tools that composers had at their disposal to express the feelings of the protagonist. One could call a cantata a pocket-size opera. However, there are also meaningful differences. The fact that cantatas were usually scored for one voice indicates that only one character is speaking. The subject is mostly love - often unhappy or unrequited love or the parting of two lovers - but it is almost always one person who expresses his feelings. The drama is not the confrontation of two characters but a sole person who gives vent to his feelings and sometimes also is in dialogue with the absent lover. Cantatas were not staged and the singers didn't wear costumes. From that angle it is probably even harder to perform such a cantata than to take part in an opera.

The cantatas recorded here reflect the features of Hasse's larger-scale dramatic works. He was especially known for his melodic gifts, and this disc includes some superb examples, for instance the opening aria from Lascia i fior, l'erbette, e'l rio. It is telling that this aria has the indication affettuoso. It is an example of superior lyricism, but at the same time Hasse manages to make his music express the emotions of the protagonist. The text includes images which are common in cantatas and operas of the time: the turtledove, flowers, meadows, streams. Elsewhere we find a "wounded deer", a "cruel arrow", the "loveliest rose", the "stormy sea" and a "desperate sailor". These were frequently used to express the trials and tribulations of love and also reflect the arcadian nature of the cantata texts. As one would expect pastoral characters like Tirsi and Filli also turn up.

The dramatic character of Hasse's cantatas comes especially to the fore in those arias in which the protagonist complains about the cruelty or the inconstancy of his lover or the fact that they have to part. In the last aria from Credi, o caro, alla speranza (Un altra pastorella) Hasse makes use of modulations and chromaticism to depict the text. The same is the case in the aria 'Mŕ le giuste mie vendette' from Lascia i fior and 'Oh Dio! dirti vorrei' from O Dio! partir conviene. The recitatives are especially dramatic and here the theatrical capabilities of the interpreters are explored. It is also in the recitatives that the protagonist addresses his lover.

I noted some difference in the way the two singers deal with the recitatives. Both sing them with the rhythmic freedom they require. However, Jana Dvoráková is more detailed in her interpretation and performs them in a truly speechlike manner, with the right dynamic accents. Her delivery is very good, better than her colleague's, who takes a more global approach. The latter's interpretation is certainly not without drama, but Veronika Mrácková Fuciková makes less of the text, also because of a more legato style of singing. Her performance is also marred by a narrow but incessant vibrato which is not nice to listen to. I found it very easy to listen to Dvoráková's performances, also because I very much like her voice. Mrácková Fuciková has a kind of voice that I don't find very pleasant to listen to, but obviously this is a matter of taste.

All in all I have really enjoyed this disc, because it sheds light on a lesser-known part of Hasse's oeuvre, which deserves our attention. These cantatas are fine works and are certainly not inferior to the better-known cantatas by the likes of Handel and Vivaldi. There is every reason to look forward to the next volumes in this project.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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