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"Music at the Habsburg Court"

Andrés Gabetta, violin
Cappella Gabetta
Dir: Andrés Gabetta

rec: July 2 - 6, 2015, Guebwiller (F), La Nef des Dominicains
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88875194662 (© 2016) (62'05")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Angelo RAGAZZI (1680-1750): Sonata à 4 for violin, strings and bc in G, op. 1,6 [2]; Sonata à 4 for violin, strings and bc in G, op. 1,8 [2]; Joseph Ferdinand TIMMER (1708-1771): Concerto à 5 for violin, strings and bc in B flat; Joseph UMSTATT (1711-1762): Concerto for violin, strings and bc No. 5 in C; Concerto for violin, strings and bc No. 6 in B flat; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto for violin, strings and bc in a minor, op. 9,5 (RV 358) [1]

Sources: [1] Antonio Vivaldi, La Cetra, op. 9, 1727; [2] Antonio Ragazzi, Sonate a quattro, op. 1, 1736

Boris Begelman, Keiko Yamaguchi, Francesco Colletti, Juliana Georgieva, violin; Ernest Braucher, viola; Petr Skalka, cello; Ludek Brany, double bass; Rosario Conte, theorbo; Giorgio Paronuzzi, harpsichord

The imperial court in Vienna was one of the cultural centres of Europe during most of the 17th and 18th centuries. Since the early 17th century it was under the spell of the Italian style, and therefore there were plenty of opportunities for Italian performers and composers to enter the court chapel. Although vocal music - sacred and secular - was considered the most important genre, there was also much interest in instrumental music. The present disc focuses on such music from the first half of the 18th century. Its title is a little inaccurate: not all the music recorded here was actually played at the court. The programme rather documents the interest of composers in writing for the Habsburg chapel.

The disc opens with a violin concerto by Antonio Vivaldi. He is an example of a composer who attempted to find a position at the court. However, for whatever reason this did not materialise. At the end of his life he landed in Vienna after all, probably because his reputation in Venice had seriously deteriorated and he hoped to perform some operas from his pen at the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna. But Charles VI died in October 1740 and as a result all the theatres closed. Vivaldi remained in Vienna and here he died in July 1741; he was given a pauper's burial. The Concerto in a minor, op. 9,5 is taken from a set of twelve violin concertos, which were printed in 1727 in Amsterdam under the title La Cetra. This title was a clear tribute to the Habsburg emperor as the cetra, a form of lyre, was associated with the dynasty. The same title had been used by other composers, and when Vivaldi met Charles VI personally in 1728, during the latter's visit at Trieste, the composer offered him a new set of concertos with the same title. A further connection between the op. 9 and Vienna is the fact that two concertos (Nos. 6 and 12) make use of scordatura, which was more popular in Austria than anywhere else. Notable in the Concerto in a minor is that, although it is strictly speaking in three movements, the first opens with an adagio section, which at least suggests the old form of four movements. Moreover, this section's chordal nature could well be a homage to the emperor's personal preference for counterpoint.

The other three composers are far less well-known. Angelo Ragazzi received his education at one of the conservatories in Naples. Here he also worked for some time as a violinist in the royal chapel; during that time Naples came under Austrian rule. In 1708 he was in Barcelona, as he was appointed to the royal chapel of Charles, at that time King of Spain. When the latter became Emperor, most of the musicians in his chapel followed him to Vienna, including Ragazzi. Here he worked until 1722, when he returned to Naples. He was in Vienna once again from 1729 to 1740, when he retired. The programme includes two of the twelve Sonate a quattro, op. 1, which were published in Rome in 1736. It is the only music from his pen which was published. The use of the word sonata in the title suggests that this is chamber music, but the full title reveals that we have to do here with solo concertos for the violin: solo violin, violin ripieno, a second violin, a viola or third violin, and basso continuo. With this scoring, and especially the use of three violins, Ragazzi links up with a Neapolitan tradition. Whether these concertos were played at the court in Vienna or even written for it, is impossible to say. However, the edition was dedicated to Charles VI, and that justifies the inclusion of two of these sonatas in the present programme. They are in three movements, and follow the model of the Vivaldian solo concerto. The solo parts are of considerable virtuosity and Andrés Gabetta plays candenzas in both of them. Notable is the central movement from the Sonata in G. It is the longest of the six movements by Ragazzi played here, and it is called aria; and indeed it comes close to an aria from an oratorio or opera. (*)

(Johann) Joseph Umstatt was from Vienna; his father was painter at the court, but worked from the mid-1720s for the Esterházys near Bratislava. Joseph attended the Jesuit school here, was educated as a keyboard player and worked as Kapellmeister at Brno from 1741 to 1747. In the next years he worked in the same position in Dresden and in Bamberg. The largest part of his compositional output has been lost. His extant oeuvre includes symphonies, solo concertos, chamber music and some sacred music, including eight Kyrie-Gloria masses and three Requiems. In this case the connection between the composer and the Habsburg court is more or less based on speculation. "According to scholar Ladislac Kacic, an autograph manuscript now housed in Vienna may (...) be proof of his contact with Charles VI. Kacic believes that this manuscript (...) dates from 1738-39, around the time Umstatt left the Esterházy residence to seek his fortune in the imperial capital, and was designed as a gift showcasing the composer's talents: it comprises six concertos for solo violin, strings and continuo, and one for two solo cellos and continuo." Notable in Umstatt's concertos are the sudden changes in rhythm and key, for instance in the opening allegro from the Concerto in B flat. (**)

The longest piece in the programme is from the pen of the least-known: Joseph Timmer, although it is not entirely clear which member of the family is the composer, as some of them had the same Christian name. The Concerto in B flat, which receives its world premiere recording here, is attributed to Joseph Ferdinand. He was born in Vienna and entered the court chapel as a tenor in 1728, but soon turned to the position of royal valet. He seems not to have been active as a performer. His compositional oeuvre includes two sets of sonatas, interestingly one for violin without accompaniment, which unfortunately is lost. Also from his pen are ten violin concertos. Eva Badura-Skoda, in New Grove, writes that his compositions are "rather unattractive". I disagree, on the basis of this recording: the Concerto in B flat was well worth to be included here.

It is served well by Andrés Gabetta and the Cappella Gabetta, which presents a nice programme, which is varied despite the identical scoring. These are lively and engaging performances; Gabetta plays very well and adds some nice cadenzas, without making them unnaturally long and virtuosic. Most of this music is hardly known, and is part of a repertoire which is seldom played. Therefore this disc is an important addition to the discography.

(*) The complete set has been recorded by the Accademia per Musica, directed by Christoph Timpe (Capriccio, 2007).
(**) More pieces by Umstatt were recorded by Milos Valent and Solamente Naturali Bratislava (ORF, 2006).

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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