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Johann Adolf HASSE (1699 - 1783): "Hasse at home"

Veronika Kralova, sopranoa
Le Musiche Nove
Dir: Claudio Osele

rec: Sept 21 - 24, 20016, Lonigo (I), Villa San Fermo
deutsche harmonia mundi - 19075936422 (© 2019) (71'11")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Clori mio ben, cantataa; Ddella noiosa estate, ariaa; Dite almeno, ariaa; Pallido il voltoa; Perché leggiadra Irenea; Sinfonia in Cd; Sonata in d minor, op. 1,11b; Sonata in Gd

Elisa Cozzini, transverse flute (solob); Alessandro Ciccolini, Laura Scipioni, violin; Viola Mattioni, cello (soloc); Francesco Tomei, viola da gamba, double bass; Alberto Grazzi, bassoon; Marco Pesci, theorbo, archlute, guitar; Federica Bianchi, harpsichord (solod)

Johann Adolf Hasse is one of those composers who were celebrities in their own time, but who play a marginal role in today's performance practice. He was especially famous for his operas, but today only a tiny part of his large output in this department is performed and/or available on disc. However, as Claudio Osele rightly observes in his liner-notes, something seems to change. In recent years several discs with his music have been released, some of which have been reviewed on this site.

The present disc focuses on a lesser-known part of his output: his music for performance in more intimate surroundings than the theatre. The programme includes three chamber cantatas, two separate arias of a comparable character and some instrumental music. The latter is probably the least-known part of Hasse's oeuvre, as he is almost exclusively associated with vocal music.

The three cantatas are for soprano and basso continuo, with an additional transverse flute in Pallido il volto. They all comprise, as was customary at the time, two pairs of recitative and aria. Their content reflects the Arcadian world of shepherds and nymphs, which was the ideal of the time, as came to the fore in the phenomenon of the Arcadian academies, which were founded across Italy since the late 17th century. Clori mio ben was probably written during Hasse's sojourn in Naples. The last aria offers a good example of his ability to depict the text in music. The melodic lines of both soprano and basso continuo jump up and down, illustrating the fluttering of the bird in his cage, with whom the protagonist compares himself, being in chains too. In the opening recitative and aria of Perché leggiadra Irene everything seems alright, but in the second long recitative the protagonist complains about the inconstancy and infedelity of his beloved. In the last aria he vents his anger; the addition of a bassoon to the basso continuo is quite effective here. Pallido il volto opens with a dramatic recitative, which is a kind of dialogue between two friends. One of them, Thyrsis, sees his friend Elpin "sad, thoughtful and weary", and asks him what is wrong. Elpin explains that he loves Chloris, but is far away from her. The aria is a duet of soprano and transverse flute, which are treated on equal footing, and that comes well off in the performance, as the balance between them is just right. After a short recitative, the cantata ends with an uplifting aria.

The two arias are settings of stanzas from canzonettas by Paolo Rolli, published as Di canzonette e di cantate libri due in London in 1727. They are both for soprano, two violins and basso continuo. As one may expect in Hasse's music, there is little counterpoint here; the two violins largely play in unison. The two pieces are very different in content. Dite almeno is about an abandoned lover, and this is well expressed in the music, which includes some chromaticism. The B-part of the second aria ends with a dissonance on "rigor" (cruelty). Della noiosa estate welcomes autumn: "The wearisome season of summer is over". In the A-part the word "vola" ([now] flies [the day]) is effectively illustrated through coloratura.

Hasse's music is theatrical through and through. He never betrays his credentials as the main opera composer of his time. That also goes for his chamber music, such as the Sonata in d minor for transverse flute and basso continuo. It is in four movements, and especially the first is notable for the rhythmic freedom of both parts, very much like a recitative, with several pauses. In the second movement the flute plays quadruplets over a bass in which notes are frequently repeated, not unlike the drum basses in keyboard music of the period. The Sinfonia in C seems to be Hasse's only work for cello solo. It comprises six movements: two pairs of adagio and allegro are followed by another allegro and a movement without tempo indication, here played as an allegro assai. The contrasting moods of the different movements and their quick succession - the longest takes here 1'26" - explains why Osele sees a connection with the theatre here.

Lastly, the Sonata in C for keyboard. In 2013 Accent released a disc with keyboard works by Hasse, played by Luca Guglielmi; this sonata is not part of that recording. The fact that Hasse's keyboard works have remained largely unnoticed is partly due to the fact that he never published any of them. Two collections are known: a series of six sonatas printed in London and six concertos for keyboard solo, but it is unlikely that Hasse himself had anything to do with their publication. His keyboard works are preserved in many archives and libraries across Europe and a number of pieces have been included in anthologies of the 18th century, which shows that they were greatly appreciated. The Sonata in C consists of three movements: a virtuosic allegro is followed by a sarabanda in French style and a menuet.

I very much appreciate what is on offer here. All the pieces on this recording, except the harpsichord sonata, are new to the catalogue. Hasse's chamber cantatas are very nice. It is hard to understand why they are largely ignored. Vivaldi's chamber cantatas are often performed and recorded; why not turn to Hasse's oeuvre for a change? In 2016 Toccata released a disc with cantatas, performed by the ensemble Hof-Musici. It was announced as 'Volume 1', but unfortunately we haven's seen any further volumes since. That makes the present disc all the more important. I am impressed by the performances of Veronika Kralova. She has a lovely voice, and knows exactly what to do to bring these pieces to life. She makes a very sparing use of vibrato, avoids any extravagant ornamentation and takes exactly the right amount of rhythmic freedom in the recitatives. The long opening recitative of Pallido il volto is a perfect example. She can sound very sweet, but there is no lack of drama either, when the music asks for it. I wish every recording of secular cantatas would be like this.

The instrumental parts of this disc are just as good. Elisa Cozzini shines in the sonata and in the cantata with obbligato flute, and so does Viola Mattioni in the Sinfonia. Federica Bianchi gives a fine account of the Sonata in G. The ensemble leaves nothing to be desired.

This is definitely one of the best Hasse discs I have heard over the years. Both the way the programme has been put together and the performances are exemplary.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Veronika Kralova
Le Musiche Nove

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