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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
See also Review
by Göran Forsling