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Kermes Resurrects Kraus

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J. M. Kraus, Cantatas for Soprano, S. Kermes, L'Arte del Mondo, W. Ehrhardt

(released July 29, 2008)
Phoenix Edition 101
The German soprano Simone Kermes has spent considerable energy bringing to light lesser-known showpieces for her kind of voice, a steely, scalpel-precise coloratura. Her 2007 CD of killer solo motets by Vivaldi, Amor Sacro, remains one of my favorite discs of the last few years. In its not unworthy but less striking sequel, Amor Profano (also with the altogether remarkable Venice Baroque Orchestra under Andrea Marcon), certain less pleasing idiosyncrasies of Kermes's voice (a middle-range stridency, odd vowel colors, scooping, occasionally sour intonation) came more to the edge of my ears, so a review never seemed worthwhile. In her other release this year, Kermes brings together four secular cantatas composed by Joseph Martin Kraus (1756-1792), the German-born whiz kid court composer of Sweden's King Gustav III, for the reportedly extraordinary coloratura voice of Lovisa Augusti, with whom Kraus worked in Stockholm.

The cantatas all use texts by Pietro Metastasio, including La gelosia and La pesca. One drawback of the booklet for this imported disc is that the Italian texts are translated only into German, although the liner notes (by Gerhart Darmstadt, president of the Joseph Martin Kraus-Gesellschaft) are fortunately translated in English. The melodic writing in the most spectacular movements is a natural fit for Kermes's athletic style, as in the dizzying runs of "Va, ma conserva i miei," with a cadenza that rockets up to a high A-flat (above the highest note of the Queen of the Night). The historically informed performance (HIP) ensemble L'Arte del Mondo has released only a handful of recordings in the last year or two, and this is the first one to cross my desk. It was founded by Werner Ehrhardt, former director of Concerto Köln, in 2004, and they have a muscular style of playing, with instruments that sound quite strong, especially the horns. The vocal selections are framed by movements of the incidental music composed by Kraus for a Swedish version of Voltaire's Olympie, presented in Stockholm in 1792.


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