> Joseph I, Ferdinand III, Leopold I [AR]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Kaiser FERDINAND III (1608-1657)
Hymnus de Navitate »Jesu Redemptor omnium«
Hymnus »Deus Tuorum« à 4
Hymnus »Humanae Salutis« à 8
Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (1620/23-1679)

Lamento sopra la morte Ferdinandi III
Kaiser JOSEPHUS I (1678-1711)
Cantata »Regina coeli«
Kaiser LEOPOLD I (1640-1705)

Sonata piena
Psalmus »Laudate Pueri«
Sacred Works
Wiener Akademie Orchestra
Martin Haselböck conductor
Recorded October 16-19, 1997 in the »Holburgkapelle«, Hofburg, Vienna
CPO 999 681-2 [50`35]


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This disc presents a choice sample of works from a generation of emperor-composers at the time of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (c.1600-1700). The listener is taken on a journey through a changing century of music from the delicate jewels of Kaiser Ferdinand III hymns to the sophisticated baroque splendour of the religious songs and psalms of Kaiser Josephus I and Kaiser Leopold I. Sandwiched between the royal piety the court musician Johann Heinrich Schmelzer plays a sweet servant’s lament for the death of his Emperor patron Ferdinand III.

These works do warrant the high calibre playing that the Wiener Akademie and the weighty direction of Martin Haselböck bring to them. A lesser talent may not have brought out the sparkling character of these pieces. The performance is engaging and faultless, the choice of singers quite inspired and altogether the disc is satisfyingly well put together in the meshing of Italianate style and Germanic composition.

The three hymns from Ferdinand III are taken from the liturgy and include two Christmas and one spring hymn. Ferdinand has given them their own appropriate religious atmosphere and they are intriguing and pretty poems. Apparently much influenced by his Italian teacher Giovanni Valentini and by Monteverdi, who attended his court, the music of the hymns adorn the simple religious texts with pretty instrumentation and colotura singing. The hymns display a fascinating transitional moment in the music of the Baroque era. Flutes, trumpets, cornets and strings are knotted together bringing a rawer quirkiness to the music which contrasts with the more sophisticated music of the later Emperors, Leopold and Josephus. The performers really bring out the majesty of the composition for wind here and they manage to create a complex feel to the music in the warm rich tones and the choice of Oratorio style singing.

The soprano Linda Perillo has a rich, slightly coarse vocal line which sounds very well when set against the trumpet. The men have a purer and more beautiful quality to their voices, and the inclusion of a male soprano serves to highlight this.

Haselböck and the Akademie are particularly good at bringing out the character of the earlier pieces but they go on to underline the professionalism and sophistication of the later Emperor’s works.

The Schmelzer piece is dealt with effectively by the performers. The piece is both graceful and melancholic and yet by turns becomes quite jaunty. Schmelzer divides the piece into 6 mini movements, although the piece almost has a tone poem quality to it, as it is obviously quite descriptive. The composer seems to weave expressions of sorrow among a description of his master’s character or scenes from his life. Again it is the rich, sombre tones of the instruments which captivates here and creates a marvelous feel to the music.

The Schemlzer piece really seems to bridge the gap between music which still had its roots in renaissance melancholy and simple, flowing structures and the complexity and assurance of the music of the Eighteenth century.

The later works of the Josephus and Leopold shows such assurance. The pieces are deftly composed, almost smug in their early Eighteenth optimism. Leopold was a prolific composer, whose works included operas, masses and oratorios and Josephus apparently garnered musical tributes from his expert contemporaries, although few works by him are now in existence.

Josephus’ cantata is a pretty Handlerian-like affair to which Perillo’s voice is most suited and Leopold’s ‘Sonata piena’, a short instrumental piece for wind and strings, is most grandeous and kingly. Flourishing baroque trumpets and sweet strings display a worldly air.

To finish the disc Leopold’s Psalm ‘Laudate Pueri’ is finely sung and the Wiener Akademie Choir add an element of individuality to the piece through their robust singing. The grand style of the work is offset by a sort of alpine village choir sound which the Akademie manage to evoke, which really brings the piece alive. Haselböck and the Akademie seem to be hinting at the changing nature of the times –a distinctive Germanic flavour asserting itself over earlier Italian dominance.

This is, then, a well-played and charming disc. Cleverly thought out, surprising, and not at all dull, despite being limited to a particular geographic area and by the high-born status of its composers! The quality of the recording too underscores the richness in sound of the musicians.

Ali Rodriguez

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