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CD & DVD ReviewsUndolceaffanno

Index / Indice

Un dolce affanno

anon: 2 Airs à deux Clarinettes (c1700); Prelude;
Attilio ARIOSTI (1666-1729): La Placidia (Di quel trono, aria; Giga);
Giovanni BONONCINI (1670-1747): L'Abdolomino (No, non più guerra, aria);
Antonio CALDARA (1670-1736): Ifigenia in Aulide (Parte, e d'Ilio trionfa il forte Atride - La vittoria, rec. & aria);
Francesco Bartolomeo CONTI (1682-1732): Vaghi augelletti, cantata (Dolce amor, aria);
Johann Joseph FUX (1660-1741): Il Mese di Marzo (Non sdegnar, aria); La decima fatica d'Ercole (Sento nel core, aria); Sinfonia in C (Janitshara);
JOSEPH I (1678-1711): Tutto in pianto, aria;
LEOPOLD I (1640-1705): Amor preparami, aria;
Georg MUFFAT (1653-1704): Courante; Sarabande

Michaela Riener, soprano

Calamus Consort:
Ernst Schlader, soprano chalumeau, clarinet, basson de chalumeau;
Markus Springer,
soprano chalumeau, clarinet;
Heidi Gröger,
viola da gamba;
Mario Aschauer,
harpsichord

Passacaille PAS986

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The rich musical culture at the imperial court in Vienna in the late 17th and early 18th century is well documented, also on disc. It cannot only be explained by the personal taste of the respective emperors, although Ferdinand III, Leopold I, Joseph I and Charles VI all played instruments and even were active as composers. It was also an instrument of representation: the splendour of the musical scene in Vienna was an expression of the political power of the emperors. They spent much money to attract the best musicians from Europe. In particular the opera was a way to show off. This disc is devoted to a specific part of the repertoire which was performed at the court or could have been performed there. Three instruments are in the centre of attention: the chalumeau, the clarinet and the viola da gamba. In a way they represent the past and the future. 

To start with the former: in many parts of Europe the viola da gamba was on its way out. The Viennese court was under strong Italian influence, and in Italy the viola da gamba had sunk into almost complete oblivion. But the Viennese emperors loved the instrument, and this explains that even music for viol consort was written for the court. The Hamburger Ratsmusik has devoted a whole disc to this repertoire. The gamba was also used as an obbligato instrument in large-scale vocal works. This programme contains an impressive example by Johann Joseph Fux, the aria 'Senta nel core' from his opera La decima fatica d'Ercole. This aria which lasts more than 11 minutes is a vocal tour de force, but it is especially the virtuosic gamba part which attracts the listener's attention. And that was probably as it was meant to be. Also interesting is an early example of a vocal piece with a concertante keyboard part, Di quel trono from La Placidia by Attilio Ariosti. This and the harpsichord items in the programme bear witness to the role of the harpsichord at the court. It is reported that Leopold I was an accomplished harpsichord player. Charles VI directed musical performances from the harpsichord, playing himself the basso continuo. Joseph I's wife, Amalia Wilhelmina, of French origin, owned a personal notebook with harpsichord pieces. The two pieces by Georg Muffat are taken from this collection.

A large part of this disc is devoted to the role of the chalumeau and the clarinet. They represent the future, as it were. It is often thought that the chalumeau is the predecessor of the clarinet, but that is not correct. For a period of time they coexisted. The chalumeau was to disappear during the third quarter of the 18th century, whereas the clarinet would become one of the favourite wind instruments of the late 18th century which lost nothing of its appeal in the romantic era.

The chalumeau was developed in the late 17th century and further improved by Johann Christoph Denner, who also is considered the inventor of the clarinet. The chalumeau was built in various sizes: soprano, alto, tenor and bass. The highest, the soprano, and the lowest, the basson de chalumeau, were particularly popular in Austria. The latter can be heard in the basso continuo in the aria Amor preparami by Leopold I. Particularly interesting is the aria No, non più guerra from L'Abdolomino by Giovanni Bononcini. Here the harpsichord has to keep silent: the voice is accompanied by the soprano chalumeau, with the basson de chalumeau providing the bass. The chalumeau has an obbligato part in the aria Tutto in pianto which Joseph I composed for the opera Chilondia by Marc'Antonio Ziani. In Non sdegnar from Il mese di marzo by Fux the chalumeau and the viola da gamba both have obbligato parts. In Dolce amor from the cantata Vaghi augelletti by Francesco Bartolomeo Conti the singer is accompanied by two chalumeaux.

Lastly the clarinet. In the early stages of its existence it was often used as a substitute for the trumpet. It can be heard in this role in the aria La vittoria from Ifigenia in Aulide by Antonio Caldara. The aria is preceded here by the recitative Parte, e d'Ilia trionfa il forte Atride. This ends with the words "rauca la tromba". In the performance "tromba" has been replaced by "clarinetto". That is rather dumb: the clarinet was supposed to play the 'role' of the trumpet, and therefore this adaptation makes no sense. If in an opera a man plays the role of a woman, he is not addressed as "he".

It is a very little blot on a disc which is intriguing and pays attention to instruments which are still not fully appreciated. The extracts from the various vocal works performed at the court in Vienna also underlines how large the repertoire is which still needs to be explored. The playing of the four instrumentalists is excellent. Ernst Schlader and Markus Springer show the special features of the chalumeaux and baroque clarinets. Heidi Gröger is impressive in Fux's aria with gamba obbligato. Michaela Riener has a very nice voice and sings well, but as the lyrics are not translated it is impossible to tell whether she expresses the texts to the full. I had the impression that Tutto in pianto which opens this disc is a bit bland. But on the whole I have greatly enjoyed her singing. Her performance of Caldara's recitative suggests she knows how to perform a dramatic piece; her treatment of the rhythm is spot on.

In short, a most enjoyable disc which is historically interesting and musically captivating and stimulating.

Johan van Veen, 15 October 2012

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