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Simon MAYR (1763–1845)
L’Armonia (1825) [44.06]
Cantata sopra la morte di Beethoven per soli (1827) [15.24]
Talia Or (soprano)
Altin Piriu (tenor)
Nicolay Borchev (bass)
Simon Mayr Choir
Ingolstadt Georgian Chamber Orchestra/Franz Hauk
rec. Asamkirche Maria de Victoria, Ingolstadt, 15–18 September 2005
NAXOS 8.557958 [59.30] 


Though Simon Mayr is perhaps best known as Donizetti’s teacher and the composer of nearly seventy operas, sacred music seems to have remained close to his heart. Despite great success in the opera house, Mayr succeeded his teacher Carlo Lenzi as maestro di capella of Bergamo Cathedral in 1802. Mayr remained in post until his death, writing some six hundred sacred works. 

In 1825 Emperor Franz of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, paid a state visit to Bergamo along with his Empress, his son and daughter-in law. The visit culminated in a performance of Mayr’s cantata L’Armonia at the Ricciardi Theatre. The cantata, for soprano, tenor and bass soloists, choir and orchestra, was evidently his last composition for the theatre. It was described as an azione drammatica, which means that it was acted on stage with stage-setting and scenery. 

The basic plot, if that’s what you can call it, is straightforward. The scene opens in peaceful countryside with the chorus and the leader of the people (bass soloist) celebrating peace. Trumpets are heard and the leader of the soldiers (tenor soloist) informs the populace that war is imminent. The third scene takes place after the victory and the leader of the people, the leader of the soldiers and the leader of the bards (soprano soloist) lead the chorus in celebrating their victory. The text includes glowing references to Rudolf of Hapsburg - the first significant member of that family - as well as to Emperor Franz and his Empress. 

The piece opens with a jolly, four-square chorus. The bass soloist, Nikolay Borchev, now enters. Borchev has an attractive, light voice and copes very well with the fioriture required of him. Here and elsewhere in the cantata, Mayr orchestrates the recitatives in an attractive and imaginative way, punctuating and illustrating the text. The ensemble with chorus and bass soloist which concludes the first scene has plenty of Rossinian overtones. 

After the martial trumpets the tenor soloist, Altin Piriu, has a florid aria. Piriu copes pretty well with the high tessitura. His tone is not the most grateful but he has a flexible open top to his voice. 

The third scene opens with the chorus celebrating victory in a jolly triple-time chorus. The scene is then constructed as a series of choruses alternating with trios from the soloists. Mayr integrates these into a satisfying whole and structures the trios to include significant solo parts for the soprano solo, Talia Or. Or has a vivid way with her, though she is apt to be a little wayward at times. But she copes well with the virtuoso music required of her. 

The Simon Mayr choir acquit themselves adequately, singing the choruses with lively enthusiasm and a reasonable degree of finesse. They are well supported by the orchestra.

This cantata is an attractive occasional work in a Mayr’s operatic vein. There are many echoes of Rossini and other contemporary operatic composers. The piece is not the most sophisticated but it is certainly bears repeated listening.

The accompanying piece is Mayr’s Cantata on the Death of Beethoven. Mayr had performed Beethoven’s Christus am Olberg in Bergamo in 1826 and the cantata includes references to this, as well as Wellington’s Victory, the Sixth Symphony and the Mass in C. Mayr wrote the piece for performance in 1827 and it seems to have written in a hurry; it reuses portions of Mayr’s cantata on Haydn’s death as well as Cherubini’s Chant sur la mort d’Haydn. 

This piece takes itself far more seriously than  L’Armonia. It has a rather ponderous pomposity to it. Attractive enough, in its way, it makes a good filler. One of the curiosities is the selection of Beethoven’s works which Mayr chooses to commemorate. 

Simon Mayr is one of those influential figures whose music is only gradually coming back into view. We are again in Naxos’s debt for this disc of two of Mayr’s attractive occasional works.

Robert Hugill 

See also Review by Göran Forsling



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