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Critic’s Notebook: Collegium 1704 Resuscitates Heinichen; a Crowning Achievement

Also reviewed for DiePresse: Resonanzen-Finale im Konzerthaus: Neptun macht die Ex-Geliebte zum Mann

The finale of Resonanzen, the annual early music festival of Vienna‘s Konzerthaus, landed on Neptune. And it wasn’t a safe landing: Collegium 1704 positively careened towards the blue planet and dove into the hydrogen and helium atmosphere, like Spaceman Spiff on a more reckless day. Mahvelous!

No one contributed more to art to music (and to the gene pool) of middle Germany than August II the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. Not a feast or celebration that wasn’t garlanded with a lavish helping of the best music that debt could buy. One of these made-to-measure works, commissioned, written, and performed for and on the occasion of his son, Prince Frederick Augustus’s name day, and never again since, was unearthed, for the first time in 300 years, at the conclusion of the Resonanzen. Johann David Heinichen was the composer (whom the prince himself had ‘discovered’ in Venice and immediately hired for his father’s band in Dresden) and the large orchestral serenade he wrote for the occasion was Le nozze die Nettuno, e di Teti. Being such a fire-and-forget work, it’s not a bit less inspired for it.

The plot is simple enough. Neptune and Thetis, the fairest of the Nereids, wish to get married. A former dalliance of Neptune’s, however, Caenis, is on the scene, and she is slightly undiplomatic in her lavish reminiscence of those past romps. Although she has contented herself with Neptune moving on and wishes him and Thetis all the very, very best, this brings Suspicion (personified) unto the scene, who sees an opening to sow discontent. Finally, Caenis offers to change her sex, so that she may continue to love Neptune in her innocent ways, without causing Thetis’ fury. Not the least because understanding and love come from the same place, the wish is granted, and Caenis becomes Caeneus, a formidable early Greek hero. Suspicion is banished – not, however, without deviously suggesting, whether trust can be worth much when there is no suspicion; what the value of faithfulness is, when faithlessness isn’t even an option. (Pre-shadowing the subject of Richard Strauss’ Egyptian Helen by 200 years.)

Collegium 1704 (has it really been ten years since we last reviewed them in concert?!) under Václav Luks took their musical archaeology seriously. Despite the relatively small ensemble – four singers and an orchestra of 16 strings, two horns, two oboes, two flutes, XXX, two harpsichords, and the inevitable theorbo (the score suggests Heinichen had possibly asked for even less; after all, this was after August II had almost bankrupted his Electorate on the occasion of August Jr’s wedding bash) – the ensemble came out with a punch and didn’t let up until the last note, two hours later. Without claiming, that Le nozze die Nettuno, e di Teti “great” in the Mass-in-B-minor-sense, it is choc-full of goodness, of surprises, of tender moments and spurts, of grand arias and fabulous ensemble work and instrumental contributions. Particularly delightful is a pizzicato accompaniment to an aria about a bee collecting its nectar. The instrumentalists were essentially perfect, until the very end, when a little horn-wobble here, a briefly flat violin passage there, suggested, that Ensemble 1704 was mostly made up of humans, after all. This was that spark that had been missing, a bit, amid French elegance and English politeness.

The voices, too, were a delight. Confident and full and appropriately operatic (but not too much), Roberta Mameli, Lucile Richardot, Manuel Walser, and tenor Krystian Adam (who lent a nice baritonal swagger to his bravura aria that concluded the first half) were quite the contrast to the rather more pallid voices (excellent though they had been in their own right) of the previous Resonanzen concerts. Easily as impressive: The foursome worked just as well in its ‘choral’ ensemble passages. A joy from A to Z, varied and diverting.

Photo © Manuel Chemineau


Critic’s Notebook: Mars – Bringer of Early Italian Baroque

Also reviewed for DiePresse: Konzerthaus: Punktgenaue Marslandung

A rocking dose of early Italian Baroque from Concerto Scirocco

“Resonanzen“, the annual early music festival of Vienna‘s Konzerthaus, circled around to Mars only to land in a heap of early Italian baroque, courtesy of the engaged and dynamic, young baroque ensemble Concerto Scirocco. The instruments signaled “authenticity” from afar. The long neck of the theorbo has become a real tell, and is well known, by now. Not so much that conical recorder that looks like a truck drove over it and bent it. It’s a zink (or cornetto; not the ice-cream). The wooden contraption, thick as a young tree and looking conspicuously like a blunderbuss, turned out to be a Dulcian, a Renaissance predecessor of the bassoon. Add to that a chest organ in combination with a harpsichord, a violin, violone, two trombones, enough actual recorders to bring back up some unwanted childhood memories, and things were ready to get under way. Composers like Biagio Marini, Marco Uccellini, Andrea Falconieri, Antonio Ferro came and went. Rarities that only specialists might know but everyone (everyone likely to go to such a concert, anyway) can readily enjoy. Especially in such spirited performances. Despite the smallish ensemble of a maximum of eight performers, the Mozart Hall was humming with energy. With a song referencing “Mars” and two with “battaglia” in the name, there was sufficient reference made to the Planet in question. And the last encore was the same as the opening piece (Marini’s Canzon VIII à 6), things thus coming – very planet-like – full circle.

Even if, by then, a sense of sameness had taken hold, there were plenty of highlights along the way that turned out very memorable, indeed. The Corale à Violino solo, for example, of William Brade’s – one of the earliest (if, apparently, apocryphal) pieces for solo violin altogether. Violinist Alfia Bakieva played, as early music parlance would have it, the heck out of that work. The trombones (Susanna Defendi and Nathaniel Wood) were terribly impressive, for their faultless agility, and the continuous continuo presence of Givanni Bellini (theorbo) and Luca Bandini (violone) gave everything a most bracing underpinning. The zink (Pietro Modesti) was formidable in substituting for a trumpet, at times, and being a sensitive chamber music partner at others. The solo passages for the dulcian of Antonio Bertoli’s, the founder of Concerto Scirocco, as called for in Antonio Bertoli’s Sonata Settima Passacaglia, had a downright jazzy, improvisatory character. A crumpled old gentlemen next to me, by whose looks you might have thought was not safe in found on public land in Portland, turned to me after the first half had been closed with Samuel Scheidt’s Canzon Bergamasca and sighed, from the bottom of his heart: “How divinely beautiful!” A sentiment that pretty much applied to the whole evening.

Photos © Manuel Chemineau

Critic’s Notebook: More English than Toast with Marmite and Cheddar, Fair Oriana

Also reviewed for DiePresse: Resonanzen-Festival: Very charming, indeed

A delightfully frothy mix of British, all-too British baroque from Fair Oriana at Vienna’s Resonanzen Festival.

“Resonanzen“, the annual early music festival of Vienna‘s Konzerthaus, continues and on Sunday had arrived on Venus. It’s an astoundingly British planet, it turns out, courtesy the vocal duo Fair Oriana, who offered a program of better- and lesser-known English composers and those who made their living on that sceptered isle, this other Eden, demi-paradise. The program was accordingly tailored to fit the love goddess theme and was backed by a minimalist combo of cembalo, viola da gamba, theorbo (and baroque guitar), oboe (and traverse flute), as well as the amiable narrator Timothy Vaughan.

With their golden hair, golden dress with vertical folds, and classical gesturing, the two singers – Fair Oriana-founder Penelope Appleyard and Lucinda Cox (the replacement for the other co-founder, Angela Hicks) – looked as though two of the caryatid columns had flown over from the Musikverein across the road. The way these two sopranos – with similarly bright, piercing timbre; Appleyard’s a little starker, brittle; Cox a little warmer and more diffuse – presented Purcell, Pepusch, Handel & Co., was most charming, indeed -- in its gentle, genteel way downright innocent.

Penelope Appleyard had also provided the texts – faux-Shakespearean, dotted with anachronistic modern references – that Timothy Vaughan read, in English, to the amusement of the involved audience. With a carefully measured dosage of harmless ribaldry, he kept the audience chuckling along. And when the band returned after the break wearing, wait for it, sunglasses all; a baseball cap here, a leather jacket there: my, what merriment this caused. There was a heavy whiff of pre-Raphaelite music-theatricality in this, combined with the guileless charm of a college theater production – and the whole thing was more English than toast with marmite and cheddar. Handel’s “As steals the morn” und Purcells “Now that the sun” closed this pallidly-attractive, entertaining evening.

Photos © Manuel Chemineau


Critic’s Notebook: Christophe Rousset & Atys opens Resonanzen Festival in Vienna

Also reviewed for DiePresse: Bei den „Resonanzen“ geht abends die Sonne auf

A large dose of deligthfully elegant French baqroque from Les Talens Lyriques and Christophe Rousset to open the Vienna Konzerthaus' "Resonanzen" Festival. Perhaps almost too much of a good thing?

“Resonanzen” is the name of the annual early music festival of the Vienna Konzerthaus – now in its 32nd season. Each year has to have a motto, of course, to which the concerts are then most tenuously related. This year’s is: “The Planets”, which spans nine concerts -- the Sun and eight planets (no love for Pluto here, either) – and plenty events, movies, exhibitions (including a sort of petting zoo for old instruments).

The opening concert – “Sun” – was given to Les Talens Lyriques and Christophe Rousset, ionarts-favorites in performance and on record alike. They brought with them Lully’s Atys, which befits the sun-title, given that this “tragédie en musique” is also known as “the King’s opera” for having so entertained Louis XIV… the “Sun King”.

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W.Christie, Les Arts Florissants
Harmonia Mundi

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C.Rousset, Les Talens Lyriques
Chateau de Versailles Spectacles

I’m sure it was grand entertainment, but then Louis XIV would have had the benefit of experiencing the whole thing in a presumably lavish staging, with the accompanying ballet. And a buffet. Both would have nice on this occasion, too, because without either, Atys can get a bit long. That’s not particularly surprising, really, because Lully didn’t just readily use the formulaic musical language of his time, he created many of those formulas. And he runs with them. Further: Although there’s drama near the end of this “tragédie en musique”, most of the rest is a pastoral idyll that murmurs along like the gently flowing rivulets described in the libretto of Lully-regular, Philippe Quinault: “Flow, murmur, ye clear streams / only the sound of waters / lulls the sweetness of such delightful silence.” Try not falling asleep to that!

Everything in this opera has a tendency to become lovely, sweet, cloying. That may be part of the point, but I couldn’t help to wish for Rousset and Les Talens to really kick it up a notch. To be just a wee bit less tasteful, less elegant, less refined, less excellent. He didn’t have to go full-Pluhar. But maybe a little bit in that direction. Alas, to no avail. A little thunder in the nightmare-scene just wasn’t enough for nearly three hours of rather early French baroque. (Handel and Bach weren’t even a glimmer in their parents’ eyes, when the work was premiered in 1677 – at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, before the aforementioned excited King and an allegedly bored Parisian audience.)

Perhaps the hall was also a little big for the venture? The lack of immediacy of the accurate, pliable, but not very explosive orchestra, and the thin sound from Christophe Rousset’s own harpsichord suggested as much. The Chœur de Chambre de Namur, meanwhile, was not to be blamed: The fairly small, 21-headed, ensemble, had verve and diligence in spades and offered the greatest contrast when they entered the fray. The soloists, largely young and light-voiced, were equally fine – a little light on character but with considerable enthusiasm, led by Reinoud Van Mechelen’s experienced, cor-anglais-like tenor as Atys. Soprano Gwendoline Blondeel (Iris, Doris), too, stood out, for her round soprano voice with alto-undertones, a little unstable at first and then ever more dramatic and on-point.

It was William Christie who unearthed this work with his performances in the mid-80s and brought it back to the specialist conscience. His subsequent recording, long the only game in town, has become something of a something classic. And just this year, Christophe Rousset has added his own recording to the catalogue (the third, not counting DVDs). There’s a neat link between the two: Rousset was on second clavecin for Bill Christie, on the first recording, 37 years ago.

Photo © Manuel Chemineau


Briefly Noted: Anderszewski's Central European Survey (CD of the Month)

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Janáček, On an Overgrown Path (Book 2) / Szymanowski, Mazurkas (selected) / Bartók, Bagatelles (complete), Piotr Anderszewski

(released on January 26, 2024)
Warner Classics 5419789127 | 65'32"
Schedule conflicts prevented me from hearing Piotr Anderszewski's most recent area recitals at Shriver Hall, in 2023 and 2019, much to my regret. The Polish pianist's program last year included some of Karol Szymanowski's Mazurkas, which are at the heart of this new recital disc, combining sets of early 20th-century miniatures by three esteemed composers from central Europe. Anderszewski once summed up his approach to playing the piano by saying, "to be a musician is to make sense through sound." In performance, he continued, he allows himself "a certain incoherence," to be "in a world of feelings where strict logic is not the most important thing."

The sense of vivid storytelling in an uncomprehended language suits this compilation of pieces enlivened by dissonance and folk-inspired rhythm and harmony. The disc opens with the second book of Janáček's On an Overgrown Path, recorded in 2016 at Warsaw Radio. Anderszewski included the three pieces the composer never officially included in the in the second book, from 1911. Janáček eschewed the character titles he gave each movement in Book 1, providing only tempo markings. This choice gives some emotional distance from the subject matter Janáček ascribed to these pieces, a combination of memories of his childhood and the painful experiences surrounding the death of his 20-year-old daughter Olga in 1903.

The other two selections on this disc were captured last year in Berlin. Anderszewski has long championed the music of fellow Pole Karol Szymanowski, and he gives glowing accounts of six of the twenty Mazurkas published in the composer's Op. 50. Szymanowski went even farther than Chopin in his incorporation of folk elements in his Mazurkas, and Anderszewski brings out the blue-note touches, quintal drones, and imitation of folk instruments.

The complete set of Bartók’s Bagatelles, Op. 6, packs intense flavors into each of these fourteen pieces, most no longer than a minute or two. The experimental nature of this early score, completed in 1908, is announced in the very first piece, where Bartók notated the left hand in four sharps and the right in four flats. The mixture of modal colors, drawn from central European folk music, and atonal techniques revealing the influence of Debussy and Schoenberg, is bracing in Anderszewski's rendition. The final pair of Bagatelles reveal the influence of Stefi Geyer, the young violinist Bartók developed an unrequited love for around this time: a funeral elegy ("Elle est morte") and a madcap waltz ("Ma mie qui danse"), both containing a melodic motif associated with her.

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Critic’s Notebook: Alexandre Tharaud's Debut in Vienna

Also reviewed for DiePresse: Ein Oktopus hätte das nicht besser spielen können

A naughty-but-fitting local bon-mot in Austria's capital goes like this: “World famous in Vienna”. But because the arts scene in Vienna can tend to be complacent and enough unto itself, an inversion of it can be true, too, which is more frustrating still: "World famous outside Vienna". This recital might just have changed that for at least one artist, hitherto ignored at the local music-lovers’ peril.

It’s been entirely too long since I last heard Alexandre Tharaud in recital. 13 years, apparently. Alas, the long time ionarts-favorite, while enjoying a major career in most of the rest of the world, is still a neglected, little-known entity in German-speaking countries. It was telling that his recital at the Wiener Konzerthaus last Sunday was his solo-recital premiere in Vienna.

On the upside, that way it was still possible to hear the undisputed grandmaster of the small form in the Konzerthaus’ gorgeous, ideally suited mid-size Mozart Hall (when they get too popular, economics eventually dictate a move to the Great Hall), where he performed a program ideally suited to show off his skills. A selection of all-French miniatures, from Couperin to Ravel by way of Debussy and Satie. It is especially in the baroque works, be it Bach, Rameau, Couperin, or Scarlatti, where Tharaud has always been an incomparable interpreter, combining incredible playfulness with wonderful pianism, spark and wit with an air of liberation – but without expressing the extreme wilfulness of, say, a Tzimon Barto or Anton Batagov. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) If “Les Barricades mysérieuses” was a study in fluidity and clever, almost disorienting agogics, yet as crystal clear as a mountain brook, his attack elsewhere was like that of a starved hen picking at a particularly fat worm. “Carillon de Cythère” rang brightly from the Steinway, with the left hand steady as the clapper of a bell while a carillon accompanied its big sister in the right hand. All that drollery and cheek was enough to cause involuntary smiles.
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tic toc choc
Alexandre Tharaud
Harmonia Mundi

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Piano Concertos
Alexandre Tharaud
ONF, Louis Langrée Erato

His Debussy, six preludes from Book 1, was at least as varied, from nervous frippery to thunderous exclamations, hectic here, pensive there. Everything – except the pastel-colored impressionist cliché. When the first notes of the second half rang out, a lady behind exclaimed excitedly to her friend: “I know that one!”. The friend replied: “Me, too!”. It was established: They knew that one – the popular and memorable first of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies. They probably also had heard some of the Gnossiennes before, those semi-precious jewels that so charmingly straddle the realm of Muzak and genius, minimalism and all-out romanticism, lowbrow and highbrow. That’s exactly how Tharaud makes them sound, too, with his supreme care, phrasing, and ever-present dash of irreverence.

Ravel to bring the curtain down: First À la manière de Chabrier, a little throw-away curtain raiser for the Pavane, which is – at least as per the later, self-disapproving Ravel, also, but involuntarily, “à la manière de Chabrier”... though really just a sweetly charming treat. Twenty years later, Ravel was more in the mood for sweet poison than honey – and accordingly laced his Viennese-esque La Valse just so. Tharaud performed his own transcription (as had Ravel himself, Glenn Gould, and probably several others) and it was a hoot. A few bitter, dark notes early on showed that this wasn’t going to end well, waltz-wise, but as far as the recital was concerned, it brought the house down. Hands were flying about, lusty glissandosi slid up and down, crashing exclamation marks exploded, deliciously hesitant grace notes rang out. All that was missing at the end, for a flourish, was for Tharaud to smash the piano shut. Bach & Piaf as encores rewarded an excited, sizeable crowd, which will all turn out again when Tharaud comes back to town.

Photo © Manuel Chemineau


Critic’s Notebook: Michael Haas' "Music in Exile" Previewed

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Music of Exile: The Untold Story of the Composers who Fled Hitler
Michael Haas
Yale University Press

Michal Haas has been at the forefront of championing neglected composers for as long as he has worked in music – and few people have enriched curious ears around the world immeasurably as much as he has. His “Entartete Musik” series on Decca was and remains a collector’s dream, its many releases having often brought composers like Krenek, Korngold, Ullmann, Schulhoff, Rathaus, Pavel Haas et al. to their first or at least wider attention. In the 2000s, he curated a series of phenomenal exhibitions on composers for the Jewish Museum in Vienna, that especially drew me to that town, starting, for me, alas with the one about the Korngolds, which turned out to be the penultimate exhibit, followed by a last exhibit on Hanns Eisler.

Shortly thereafter, he came to work with Exilarte Centre in Vienna, which focuses on archiving, studying, presenting, and promoting music suppressed by National Socialism. The summation of his experiences and discoveries fills two books for now, Forbidden music: The Jewish composers banned by the Nazis (2014) and recently Music of Exile: The Untold Story of the Composers who Fled Hitler, which is the book that was presented tonight in the very space that used to host his elaborate exhibits.

Whereas Forbidden Music focuses on the composers and their work that the Nazis banned, dispelled, shot and gassed, the follow-up focuses on the essence and meaning of composing in exile, on what happened to the music of those composers unfortunate enough to have to seek exile and lucky enough to receive it. What happened with and to these exiled composers’ music. Some, like Robert Fürstenthal (1920-2016), an autodidact from Vienna, stopped writing altogether – Fürstenthal became an auditor for the US Navy in San Diego. It was only when he met his one-time high-school sweetheart, by now a microbiologist at Harvard, that he started composing again upon her insistence. The results, unpublished, were still very much in the vein of Hugo Wolf, Richard Strauss, and Joseph Marx. When asked why, he replied: “When I compose, I am back in Vienna.” Walter Arlen (1920-2023), too, composed for the drawer and did not see a proliferation of his works until he was in his nineties when several recordings of his music were made in Vienna. Until then, writing music for Arlen was simply a therapeutic activity. But when the aged, now blind composer, was present at these recording sessions, his ears and memory still proved in top form. Asking one performer mid-song, if he mightn’t have missed an f-sharp in a chord, the pianist sheepishly replied “I thought it might be a mistake”. “No, it wasn’t.”

Walter Bricht(1904-1970) – like Korngold saddled with a music-critic father – was one of the most productive composer-performers of his generation, constantly in high demand in his native Vienna and beyond. The Rosé Quartet performed his chamber music; his symphony was programmed by the Vienna Philharmonic. But when Austria annex-joined Nazi-Germany, and it was discovered (apparently even to Bricht’s surprise) that he had had three Jewish grandparents, his career was in acute danger. Definitely so, after Bricht turned down an offer to be made an “honorary Arian”. He emigrated to the US, where he taught at the Mason College of Music in West Virginia before teaching in New York and, after 1963 at the Indiana University School of Music. Apparently, he was the pianist taking on the orchestral part when Paul Wittgenstein did a play-through of Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand before the composer – after which Ravel excitedly came over to Bricht, ignoring Wittgenstein altogether. Wittgenstein didn’t hold the slight against Bricht and went on to commission several works from him… a movement of which was performed at the subsequent recital by David Hausknecht.

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Egon Wellesz, Symphonies 1-9
Vienna RSO, Gottfried Rabi
Egon Wellesz (1885-1974) has been served a little better than Arlen, Fürstenthal, Richard Fuchs, or Walter Bricht, as far as the reception of his music is concerned. The symphonies have all been professionally recorded, even if the patchwork recording sessions don’t come close to unleashing the full potential of these (largely) grandiosely gorgeous symphonies. Starting with this form at the age of 60, he put even symphonic late starters like Brahms and Bruckner to shame, and over the course of his first five symphonies, he appears to be working his way through music history, starting with a language where Mahler meets Elgar and arriving at a more terse, post-romantic point that incorporates lessons from his former teacher Arnold Schoenberg – before finding his uniquely own voice in the last four symphonies.

The recital following the chat between Haas and his colleague at the Exilarte Center, Gerold Gruber, included no Wellesz, but it did include a gorgeous song – “In der Fremde”, to a text by Heinrich Heine – of Richard Fuchs’ (1887-1947), that exemplified that composer’s heady distillate of all that exemplifies German romanticism: Humperdinck, Rheinberger, lots of Strauss, Wagner, Bruckner and was beautifully phrased by mezzo-soprano (and Exilarte project manager) Josipa Bainac. She also lent her voice, densely concentrated, with a saturated vibrato and controlled pianissimos, to two of Walter Arlen’s songs. In the rendition of Fürstenthal’s “Lovesong”, it was hard to understand the words or, for that matter, what language they were supposed to be in, but the baritone’s sincere interpretation – a daisy chain of blurbs of sound – still allowed for the wistful Viennese coffee house beauty to shine through.

Julius Bürger (1887-1995), the first composer whose estate Exilarte acquired, a Schreker-student and later a close colleague of Dimitri Mitropoulos’ at the MET, was represented with a piano reduction of the second movement of his Cello Concerto – an Adagio that is titled in the score with: “To my mother, who was murdered on this day.” She was shot in transit to Auschwitz while five of his brothers were murdered in the extermination camp. It is a lament of touching expressive simplicity, deeply moving, yet audibly difficult to play for the beautiful-toned soloist, Christina Basili.

In its way, the recital was telling both as to the riches we miss out from not knowing unknown music – and the pitfalls that seldomly performed music faces: When there isn’t an established interpretative tradition, a living performance tradition, alternative performances to draw on, works are at the mercy of the performance at that moment. Any given performance, however well-meaning, might turn off listeners who would well possibly fall in love with a different, perhaps more fortuitous one. Just another reason, why we can only be grateful to those involved in working towards the inclusion of excellent ignored music, dipping our ears in beauty we might otherwise so easily miss. Music of Exile appears to be yet another of Michale Haas’ invaluable contributions to that end.


Briefly Noted: Rousset's Artful Fugue

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Bach, Die Kunst der Fuge
, Christophe Rousset
(released on January 12, 2024)
Aparté AP313D | 83'02"
Christophe Rousset waited until he was nearly 60 years old to record J.S. Bach's Die Kunst der Fuge for the first time. Captured at the Hôtel de l’Industrie in Paris toward the end of the pandemic year (November 29 to December 2, 2020), this new disc quickly rises to the top of the list of recordings on harpsichord, which actually are not that numerous. It is certainly in the running with Gustav Leonhardt's two recordings, as well as the exhaustively complete version by Davitt Moroney. Both of those were made decades ago. Rousset plays on a German harpsichord made by an anonymous craftsman, now in an unnamed private collection. The sound is close and warm, showing off the musician's smooth, connected touch and his patient unwinding of the piece's contrapuntal complexities, at often introspective, leisurely tempi.

Rousset has chosen not to record the incomplete "Fuga a tre soggetti" added as Contrapunctus XIV to the 1751 edition of the work, the version edited by and possibly added to by Bach's sons. (Leonhardt also left this final piece of the posthumous edition unrecorded, while Moroney composed his own completion of it.) A brilliant booklet essay by Gaëtan Naulleau, a musicologist at the University of Tours and formerly a recording reviewer and editor at Diapason, explains the thinking behind rejecting this late addition to the score. After playing Contrapunctus I to XIII in order, Rousset concludes with the four canons, leaving Canon I to the very end.

After treating Contrapunctus XIV as spurious, it seemed a little odd to include the two-harpischord arrangement of Contrapunctus XIII, a version also included only in the 1751 edition published after the elder Bach's death. The younger Belgian harpsichordist Korneel Bernolet takes the second part in this piece, a gesture recalling the younger Rousset's doing the same with his older colleague, Christopher Hogwood, many years ago: a sense of in turn handing on a tradition is poignant as Rousset himself moves closer to retirement. (Bernolet has assisted Rousset, as both conductor and harpsichordist with his ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, since 2014.) Both Contrapunctus XII and XIII are mirror fugues, meaning that the original notation of the fugue and its mirror notation, with all the parts inverted, both adhere to all the rules of counterpoint. Rousset and Bernolet play both rectus and inversus versions of both pieces, presumably adding their own arrangement of Contrapunctus XII for two harpsichords.

Naulleau, in his essay, notes an interesting possibility, that Bach's title for this dense work, The Art of Fugue, could be seen as a clapback aimed at an anonymously penned article lamenting that Bach had obscured his musical genious by an "Allzu-grosse Kunst" (all-too-great art). Indeed, for most listeners, the unrelenting contrapuntal density of the work can be stultifying if listened to in a single go. "One person, however, can follow the work from beginning to end without exhausting himself," he writes, "thanks to his profession, his training and the support of the score: the performer. For the pianist and musicologist Charles Rosen, The Art of Fugue is 'above all, a work to be played for oneself, to be felt under one's fingers as much as listened to'." One is only too happy to accompany Rousset as he goes on that journey.

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Briefly Noted: The Story of St. Emmeram of Regensburg

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Historia Sancti Emmerani, Schola Hungarica, Janka Szendrei, László Dobszay

(re-released on December 1, 2023)
Profil PH21477 | 66'25"
St. Emmeram, born into a noble family in Poitiers, set out from his homeland in France to spread the Gospel in Bavaria in the mid-7th century. The Duke of Bavaria welcomed Emmeram to his court, where he began his missionary activities, including founding a Benedictine monastery at Regensburg that later bore his name and preserves his relics. According to a highly suspect Vita by Arbeo of Freising, written long after Emmeram's death, he was attacked, beaten, and tortured (while tied to a ladder) by the duke's son, over a misunderstanding involving the pregnancy of the duke's daughter. His feast day is celebrated on September 22, and he is often shown with the iconographic symbol of a ladder as the means of his martyrdom.

In addition to Vitae, those often highly fanciful biographies of saints, churchmen and women came to know the lives of local saints through special chant offices sung in monasteries and cathedrals on their feast days. This was the inspiration for a series of publications called Historiae, co-founded by my mentor in graduate school, the late Ruth Steiner, and David Hiley, who taught for many years at the University of Regensburg. Hiley contributed the edition of Arnold von Vohburg's Office in honor of St. Emmeram to the series (edited from manuscript sources in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, clm 14870 and 14872), and the Hungarian scholars Janka Szendrei and László Dobszay made a recording of it with their excellent choir, Schola Hungarica, originally released in 1996. No longer available in its original form, on the Calig label, this valuable disc was re-released last month by Profil Edition Günter Hänssler.

Recorded in St. Anne's Church, a former Franciscan monastery in Esztergom, Hungary, the ensemble sang with their accustomed rhythmic clarity and pure intonation, even the group of well-trained children. The recording includes almost all of the music and text notated in clm 14872 (photographed charmingly with an archivist's thumb in frame). Psalms and canticles introduced by antiphons are not chanted (with the exception of the Invitatory psalm), not being specific to St. Emmeram, nor are doxologies in responsories for the same reason. The words of the written-out prayers are intoned, however, and all verses of hymns, with text relating to the saint, are sung in their entirety. In the fast-moving style favored by the Hungarians, where long neumes are often performed faster than single notes, like rhythmic divisions (quite striking in the long melismas that adorn the complex Matins responsories), the whole Office takes about an hour to sing, covering the services from the Vespers before the feast to the Vespers on the day.

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