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Briefly Noted: La Passione

available at Amazon
Haydn / Mozart / Beethoven, Christina Landshamer, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Bernhard Forck

(released on August 19, 2022)
PentaTone PTC5186987 | 71'53"
This ingenious recital program pairs soprano Christina Landshamer with Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin. It is a true collaboration, with major showcases for the soloist and outstanding orchestral selections for this crackerjack ensemble playing on historical instruments, under the leadership of concertmaster Bernhard Forck. The opening salvo, with climaxes powered by the outstanding horn duo of Erwin Wieringa and Gijs Laceulle, is Haydn's Overture in D Major (Hob. Ia:4). Not an overture at all, it turns out, but an orchestral fragment dated to 1785, possibly a discarded symphonic finale.

Landshamer answers this passionate instrumental outburst with Haydn's Scena di Berenice (Hob. XXIVa:10) from 1795, near the end of the composer's second English sojourn. Haydn composed it expressly for Italian soprano Brigida Banti, himself conducting the premiere at a benefit concert in London. In a concise series of recitatives and arias, the singer runs the gamut of emotional responses to the suicide of her lover, concluding with a high-flying aria of rage. As in the orchestral movement that precedes it, the horns reinforce the shock and grief.

The program is centered on Haydn's Symphony No. 49 (Hob. I:49), nicknamed "La Passione." This epithet, like so many applied to Haydn's works, did not come from the composer, making it perhaps a tenuous anchor on which to hang an entire program. Whatever the actual origins and meaning of this music (scholar Elaine Sisman included it in her research on instrumental works Haydn likely composed to accompany plays performed at Eszterháza), the contrasts of mood and tempo are of a piece with the vocal works sung by distraught heroines.

A few rarities add zest, like No, non turbati, o Nice... Ma tu tremi, o mio tesoro? (WoO 92a), a sort of exercise in operatic writing that Beethoven completed in 1802 during his lessons with Antonio Salieri. (The piece, with some of the corrections to Italian diction marked by the master, remained unpublished until the 20th century.) It is a fine companion piece to Ah! perfido, the only one of these exercises for Salieri performed while Beethoven was still alive, according to authoritative notes by musicologist Roman Hinke. In a fun twist, Landshamer sings as both Ilia and Idamante in Mozart's Non più. Tutto ascoltai... Non temer, amato bene, a substitution inserted into a later performance of the composer's opera Idomeneo. The aria features an affecting duet between Landshamer and Forck's violin solo.

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