Concert Reviews | CD Reviews | DVD Reviews | Opera | Early Music | News | Film | Art | Books | Kids


Briefly Noted: New Michael Haydn Oratorio

available at Amazon
Johann Michael Haydn, Der Kampf der Buße und Bekehrung (Part II), E. Scholl, T. Szaboky, Z. Varadi, Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, G. Vashegyi

(released on July 8, 2014)
Carus 83.351 | 79'55"
Der Kampf der Buße und Bekehrung was an oratorio premiered early in 1768, composed by three different composers in the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg. The first part was by court composer Anton Cajetan Adlgasser, and the final part by choir master Johann David Westermayer. The only part for which music survives was the second, the work of Michael Haydn, younger brother of Joseph and Salzburg's Konzertmeister. The first recording of the work, recorded live in Budapest in 2009, was released last month, in a decent performance by the Purcell Choir and Orfeo Orchestra, conducted by György Vashegyi. The text is a bit of a snooze-fest, an allegorical exploration of the struggle for penance and conversion, but Haydn's daring vocal writing effectively showed off three of the archbishop's star sopranos, Maria Anna Braunhofer, Maria Anna Fesemayer, and Maria Magdalena Lipp. The last of them was the daughter of the second organist of Salzburg Cathedral and became Mrs. Michael Haydn later that year.

The casting of this performance, with sopranos singing all five roles, is a bit of a mystery. A published libretto of the work in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Slg.Her O 222) lists the names of men who sang the roles of Christ and Freigeist: court tenor Franz Anton Spitzeder, who also sang in a similar three-composer oratorio from the year before, Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots (by Mozart, Michael Haydn, and Adlgasser, with only Mozart's contribution surviving) and another court singer, Felix Winter. Haydn's score, which I have not seen, may indicate otherwise. The writing, for both instruments and voices, is virtuosic: in the aria for Gnade (Grace), Jesu, der den Tod besiegt, a demanding obbligato horn part spars with the singer jumping between high range and low chest. In two pieces, there are obbligato parts for solo trombone, which is somewhat bizarre but a sound that catches one's attention. In my experience as a choral singer, Michael Haydn's best work is a composer for choir, reflecting his training as a choir boy in Vienna, and the two choral parts are the high point of this oratorio.

No comments: