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"Babà Musicale - count harrach's treasures"

Concerto Stella Matutina
Dir: Wolfram Schurig

rec: April 15, 2016 (live), Götzis (A), Kulturbühne Ambach
fra bernardo - fb 1702576 (© 2017) (65'51")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Antonio CALDARA (1670-1736): Sinfonia in C; Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688-1758): Concerto for recorder, strings and bc in F (FWV L,F6); Sinfonia in F (FWV M,F1); Nicolò FIORENZA (after 1700-1764): Concerto for recorder, 2 violins and bc in a minor; Georg REUTTER d.J. (1708-1772): Sinfonia in d minor; Matthäus Nikolaus STULICK (c1700-1732): Concerto for recorder, violin, bassoon, strings and bc in C; Domenico SARRI (1681-1767): La Partenope, opera (introduzzione); Johann Georg THIEL (1671-1743): Concerto for 2 trumpets, 2 violins, viola and bc in C

Herbert Walser-Breuß, Bernhard Lampert, trumpet; Wolfram Schurig, recorder; Ingo Müller, Gustav Friedrichsohn, oboe; Makiko Kurabayashi, bassoon; Silvia Schweinberger, Ingrid Loacker, David Drabek, Veronika Spalt, Fani Vovoni, Susanne Mattle, Elisabeth Wiesbauer, Ruth Konzett, violin; Lucas Schurig-Breuß, Julia Beller, viola; Peter Sigl, Gerlinde Singer, cello; Barbara Fischer, Alexandra Lechner, double bass; Johannes Hämmerle, harpsichord; Stefan Greussing, timpani

Some discs come with odd titles. The present one is a good example. It doesn't tell us anything about what to expect. The subtitle, "Count Harrach's treasure", brings some light into the mattter, but only to those who know who Count Harrach was. Let's turn to Wolfram Schurig's liner-notes. "The typical Neapolitan dessert 'Babà' originated across the Alps in Poland and is therefore a perfect synonym for the musical treasures of Aloys Thomas Raimund Count Harrach. The count, initially a diplomat in the imperial service and ultimately viceroy of Naples, possessed an eclectic taste ranging from music from German states and Viennese pièces to Neapolitan concerti." That settles it: we get here a sequence of pieces from the collection of a diplomat, who was a great music lover.

Not quite. The documentation leaves something to be desired, especially in regard to the sources, from which the various pieces in the programme are taken. Aloys Thomas Raimund, Count Harrach was born in Vienna in 1669 and died there in 1742. He was the envoy of the Habsburg emperor in Dresden from 1694 to 1697. He then worked in the same position in Spain, later returned to Dresden, and then stayed in Berlin and Hanover. From 1726 to 1733 he was viceroy of Naples. He left a collection of music which includes a remarkable number of pieces for recorder. Either he played the instrument himself or he had a recorder player in his household. Today the greater part of the collection is preserved in the New York Public Library; other sources have remained in the Harrach Family Archive in the Austrian State Archives.

The subtitle suggests that the pieces played here are from the collection. However, that seems unlikely. The pieces by Caldara and Reutter the Younger are part of the musical archive of the Dresden court chapel. "The Sinfonia in F by Johann Friedrich Fasch and the Concerto in C by Johann Georg Thiel are also preserved in Dresden, whereas the two virtuoso recorder concertos by Fasch and Matthäus Nikolaus Stulick are taken directly from the Harrach collection", Schurig states. From this phrase one may conclude that most of the pieces are from other sources. The question then is why they were included here. "Two striking aspects of the count's collection are his affinities for the recorder, reflected by the number of works scored for that instrument, and for pieces in distinct concertante style in the most varied instrumental combinations. This programme is an attempt to do justice to these preferences by recreating a formal reception in the Palazzo Real in Naples, with all the splendour worthy of a royal representative, yet without forgoing any of the refinement that the viceroy, as a true connoisseur of subtle musical qualities, displays. Our choice of pieces is based on the diplomatic postings of our protagonist." In fact this disc is a kind of musical portrait of Count Harrach rather than a exploration of his own music collection. Pieces from the latter have been recorded fairly recently on several discs (you will find them by searching this site), but I would have liked to know more about what it has to offer.

Setting aside these considerations, the programme is quite interesting in that it includes several pieces which are little known. That even goes for some of the composers. Johann Friedrich Fasch is a household name, but most of his oeuvre still waits to be rediscovered. He is still largely in the shadow of his more famous contemporaries Bach and Telemann. He had a special relationship with the court chapel in Dresden and its first violinist, Johann Georg Pisendel. He composed several pieces for the chapel, which explains, why the Sinfonia in F is part of the famous Schrank II, which includes the musical library of the Dresden chapel. It is scored for two horns, two oboes, strings and bc, and especially the inclusion of two horn parts refers to Dresden, as the court chapel had some virtuosic players in its ranks. Also in Schrank II is the Sinfonia in C by Antonio Caldara. He worked for most of his life in Vienna, and the fact that this work landed in the library of the Dresden chapel betrays the lively exchange of musical manuscripts across Europe. However, the scoring causes some confusion. The parts are for two trumpets, two violins, violetta and bassono, both col basso, timpani and harpsichord (meaning basso continuo). However, the opening movement includes a passage for fagotti con il violoncello and later an episode for two bassoons, indicating that the orchestra needs two of these instruments. In the recent recording of La Serenissima it is played with two bassoons, but here no bass instruments are mentioned in the scoring in the track-list, and the episodes in question are played by double basses. The issue is not mentioned in either of the booklets.

The two recorder concertos by Fasch and Stulick have been recorded by Michael Schneider. Fasch's concerto is part of the Harrach library, and whereas most recorder concertos were written for amateurs, this piece has a remarkably virtuosic solo part, which suggests that it must have been written for a highly-skilled player. Stulick was a professional trumpet player and was of Bohemian origin. In Schneider's recording his Concerto in C is listed as scored for recorder, bassoon, strings and bc, but here the violin is also mentioned as one of the solo instruments. That is based on the violin solo in the opening movement. Nothing is known about Johann Georg Thiel; the Concerto in C is the only extant piece from his pen. According to the track-list it is scored for two trumpets, two violins, viola and bc. This suggests that the two trumpets plays the solo parts and the strings the tutti. However, the role of the trumpets is relatively limited: in accordance with contemporary custom they keep silent in the two slow movements. Even in the closing allegro they don't play the main role. Here the two violins have quite virtuosic parts; in fact the violins play a more important role in this concerto than the trumpets.

Domenico Sarri and Nicolò Fiorentino represent Naples. Domenico Natale Sarri (or Sarro) was mainly active as a composer of music for the stage. He also wrote many occasional works and secular cantatas. La Partenope is an opera, which premiered in 1722. The introduzzione comprises three short movements. He also composed concerti da camera for recorder and strings, which are included in the so-called Manoscritto di Napoli 1725, the main source of Neapolitan recorder music. Pieces from this collection are not included here, and that is just as well, as these are fairly frequently performed and recorded. The Neapolitan recorder is represented here by the Concerto in a minor by Nicola Fiorenza. From 1743 to 1762 he taught the violin, cello and double bass at the conservatory of S. Maria del Loreto in Naples. This concerto is not included in the Naples manuscript I just mentioned, but its scoring is the same: recorder, two violins and bc, which ranks it among the genre of the concerto da camera. The track-list also mentions a viola, but that is a mistake. This piece is rightly performed here with one instrument per part.

There are reasons to be critical about the selection of music on this disc, especially regarding the fact that it is connected to Count Harrach. I hope that some musicians are going to explore the count's collection more thoroughly than just take a couple of pieces from it. Even so, this disc should be welcomed, as it includes mostly little-known pieces, and also because the performances are very good. The playing is lively and energetic, and is differentiated in tempo and dynamics. In the case of the Caldara sinfonia I prefer the present performance to that of La Serenissima, which is a little too smooth and is rather short on contrast. For some inexplicable reason the rear inlay says that this is a set of two discs. Don't look for a second; there is none.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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