This CD celebrates
the artistic patronage by Habsburg emperor Charles VI (1685-1740)
of vocal and instrumental music at his court in Vienna. Passionately
keen on Italian music in particular, Charles sponsored all sorts
of musical enterprise and was himself a performer on the harpsichord
and a conductor… of works by both Caldara and Fux. The latter’s
magnum opus, ‘Gradus ad Parnassum’, Fux dedicated to Charles after
he had studied counterpoint with Fux and indeed paid for the treatise’s
publication in 1725.
Turkey was a powerful
geopolitical rival to the Habsburgs and that country’s army had
besieged Vienna in 1683. Fux’ partita K. 331 was essentially a
portrait of that siege and its happy outcome for the Viennese
despite the damage to their city. It’s a suite of dances, part
of a collection published almost 20 years later. Otherwise the
connection to the demonised country is tenuous – except that this
nicely sequenced collection as a whole (a generous hour and ten
minutes’ worth interleaving works from all three represented composers)
gives a clear sense of the kind of court music which was being
listened to when the ‘Turkish threat’ was a local preoccupation.
Notable in the other
works by Fux is the accentuated attention to the words in these
sacred settings; that’s consistent with by then well established
Counter Reformation doctrines. Fux’ use of counterpoint is prominent
– particularly in the Laetare turba and the two Alma
redemptoris settings. Ensemble Caprice is highly effective
at bringing out all of Fux’ instrumental colour in this and his
other pieces here. Attention to minutiae is spectacular. There
is a delicacy and lightness of touch, the plain adherence to which
makes the most of his fragrant combinations, for example, of woodwind
has to be made of – and plaudits offered to – Matthias Maute’s
flute and recorder playing. Thick and richly-toned yet not breathy,
sinuous but not shrill, forward while not laboured, his expressive
underlining and leading of both tempo and melody add immeasurably
to everything in which he features.
Equally deserving of praise are the consistency
and flavourful tone of soprano Monika Mauch. Completely familiar
with Fux’ and Badia’s comfort with and delight in the voice,
their idioms and the subtle ways in which the components of
their music work together, she possesses the gift of having
us wait eagerly for each new verse, line and number. And being
Of all the Fux pieces here it’s perhaps the
longest, the Sonata for flute, two violins and basso continuo,
that reveals his exquisite liveliness of spirit and abilities
with instrumentation to support melodic invention the best.
Redolent in places of Corelli and in turns vigorous and plangent,
this is a piece that can hardly fail to refresh and stimulate.
Ensemble Caprice does it proud. Play it first if this repertoire
is new to you or you have doubts about its profundity, characterful
nature or sheer beauty.
Before working in
Rome, where he met such illuminati as Alessandro Scarlatti,
Corelli and Handel, Caldara held the appointments at Mantua
then San Marco’s in Venice which Monteverdi had filled a century
earlier. In 1716 he succeeded Fux at Vienna, where Charles esteemed
him so highly that he paid him more than he had paid Fux. Caldara
was a more prolific composer with over three thousand works
to his credit including 90 operas and over 40 oratorios. As
introductions to these he composed ‘sinfonie’; this was an emerging
term without the precise meaning it later acquired – merely
an instrumental appendage to an opera or choral work, for example.
Caldara’s number 12 was for La passione di Gesù Signor Nostro
from 1730 and is stylish enough to whet one’s appetite for the
more substantial choral work; here are just five minutes with
flutes and continuo.
Badia is likely to
have been born in Venice; he was a contemporary of both Fux and
Caldara. Although he worked at Vienna for over 40 years, he was
favoured less by Charles than were either Fux or Caldara. Yet
in fact he was more of an innovator making use of richly figured
ritornelli and sinfonie into his choral works and introducing
several aspects of the current Italian style to the Viennese court;
these included a greater emphasis on the colour afforded by solo
instruments in concerti; and indeed Badia introduced the concerto
grosso itself to Vienna. He wrote nearly four dozen cantatas in
the Roman (emphasising high solo voice with basso continuo) and
Neapolitan (da capo arias, secco recitatives) styles. La Fenice
is of the latter and exhibits a gentleness that’s most pleasing.
This is a world premier recording, and worth the wait. Maute’s
recorder is again a delight here.
The liner notes are
informative, though have not been fully proofed… at one point
they have Fux living for 141 years! The text of all the works
is reproduced in Latin or Italian, French and English. The recording
itself is clean, close and with an acoustic that never asks too
much of the style of playing based on an urbane and happy composure
characteristic of Ensemble Caprice.