Simon Mayr was one of those composers who created quite a stir
in their lifetime but since then have fallen more or less into
was born in Mendorf in Bavaria, close to Ingolstadt, where these
recordings were made. He first studied theology at the University
of Ingolstadt and later in Italy, where he took music lessons.
In 1802 he moved to Bergamo, where he was appointed maestro
di cappella at the Cathedral, a post he held until his death.
He did much to make Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven known in Italy.
There are also influences from them in his own compositions,
even though his style is essentially Italian. One of his pupils
was Gaetano Donizetti.
a composer he was enormously prolific, leaving behind around
six hundred sacred works and nearly seventy operas. The record
catalogues can’t boast much, I’m afraid, but at least Opera
Rara have several things, not least in the “100 Years of Italian
Opera” series but also a complete opera, arguably his masterpiece,
Medea in Corinto (1813), which I seem to remember also
existed in a recording during the LP era.
has one leg firmly rooted in the Viennese tradition and the
other influenced by the music in his new homeland. His music
has a certain formal kinship with the former and melodic directness,
sometimes verging on the banal, that shows the provenance of
the latter. Though hardly on the level of Rossini and Donizetti
his music has appeal and displays an intimate knowledge of the
possibilities of the human voice. The orchestral and choral
writing is highly professional and very often more than that.
His choral writing has both power and lyrical bloom and as an
experienced opera composer he knows how to make use of the orchestral
palette. It is however the solo singing that shows his forte,
and no wonder: he had behind him more than three score operas
when these two cantatas were composed.
that he was well over sixty at the time of composition, there
is a remarkable freshness about the music, especially L’Armonia,
which is laid out in mainly short numbers that succeed each
other without pause. This may have something to do with the
occasion for the composition. On 1 and 2 July 1825 Emperor Franz
I with companions visited Bergamo and the grand finale was a
visit to the Ricciardi Theatre where this dramatic cantata was
performed to the illustrious company in a staged production
with set designs by “the extremely talented” Sanquirico. This
was in fact Mayr’s last composition for theatre and it was a
great success. Reportedly even the Emperor and his wife praised
him so highly that Mayr went home that evening with tears of
joy in his eyes.
need not go into a detailed outline of the story but the message
is the harmony of the spheres and the drama is populated with
bards, soldiers and people, each group with a leader. All this
results in joyous and lively music as befits a festive occasion
like this, but there are contrasts as well. The opening chords
have more than a casual likeness to Die Zauberflöte overture
and the ladies’ chorus Scendi de’ cantici, alma custode!
(tr. 12), which was the most appreciated number at the premiere,
is light and airy. There are other moments of contemplation
and repose, but elsewhere the soloists indulge in dramatic recitatives
and the solos and ensembles are distinctly operatic with quite
a lot of florid singing. Without bothering much about the text
I had an entertaining three-quarters of an hour, enjoying good
choral singing, the excellent playing of the Georgian Chamber
Orchestra, which I admired greatly a number of years ago while
they were still stationed in Tblisi. Then they were a string
ensemble; here they are amended by wind, timpani and even a
harp, which has a lot of solo work to do.
vocal soloists shine in their far from easy solos and ensembles.
And very good they are, these three young singers. Nikolay Borchev
from White Russia is the owner of an agile and lyrical bass
with attractive timbre, full of character. He is expressive
in the recitatives and he sings elegantly and with gusto in
the two arias that follow suit in the first scene. He should
be an asset in any Rossinian baritone or bass role. Albanian
tenor Altin Piriù also has a natural aptitude for florid singing
and can be both lyrically mellifluous and powerfully temperamental,
best demonstrated in long marital aria with chorus A combater
ci chiama la tromba (tr. 5). The soprano, Israeli born Talia
Or, matches her male colleagues in technical accomplishment
and feeling. A splendid trio indeed.
other cantata, written for the death of Beethoven, so much admired
by Mayr, is more sombre. It is nevertheless vital music, more
a tribute to the great master than a dirge, written á la
manière de Beethoven and quoting several of his works, the
most well-known being the Pastoral Symphony. It is well-crafted
music and the performance is on the same high level, but when
I want to return to this disc it is primarily for the L’Armonia
cantata, much of which has already started to stick in my memory.
Mayr may have been a parenthesis in musical history, but his
was a not inconsiderable talent and lovers of the Viennese classics
and/or early 19th century opera with an interest
in some byways of the period will find much to enjoy here. Having
heard very little of Mayr before, I took a chance when this
disc was on the latest “request list” – something I definitely
don’t regret. While writing this I have the finale of the cantata
in my headphones and – gosh! – I like it more and more.