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Recordings of the Month


From Ocean’s Floor


Conner Riddle Songs

Rodzinski Sibelius

Of Innocence and Experience


Symphonies 1, 2, 3


CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS

Johann Adolf HASSE (1699 - 1783)
Requiem in C [50:11]
Miserere in e minor [23:56]
Greta De Reyghere (soprano); Susanna Moncayo von Hase (contralto); Ian Honeyman (tenor); Dirk Snellings (bass)
Il Fondamento/Paul Dombrecht
rec, October 1992 St Gillis Church, Brughes, Belgium. DDD
NAÏVE OP30464 [74:09]
Experience Classicsonline

" 'Few artists enjoyed such success and acquired such a remarkable reputation as Hasse; few have been forgotten more completely than he is now'. These words were written in 1844 by one of the fathers of musicology, François Joseph Fétis, in his monumental Biographie universelle des musiciens. His opinion is, alas, just as valid today: little of Hasse's music is performed and even less is recorded." These are the first sentences in the programme notes of this recording, written by Denis Morrier. But that was 1992, the year this disc was first released. Since then there has been a growing interest in Hasse's music, maybe even as a result of this production - who knows?

Fact is that today there are a number of discs on the market which shed light on the oeuvre of one of the most prolific composers of around 1750. Hasse was born in Bergedorf, near Hamburg, in a musical family. He was educated as a singer, and from an early age he was especially interested in opera. The Neapolitan opera was the fashion of the day, so he went to Naples to listen and learn. He was given lessons by Alessandro Scarlatti, and soon started to compose, especially serenatas and intermezzi. He quickly received the reputation of being able to compose at high speed, and as a result his output is huge. As so often, this has probably worked against him, suggesting that his compositions lack depth and expression.

In Naples he converted to Catholicism and in Venice he married Faustina Bordoni, one of the most celebrated opera singers of her time. In 1730 Hasse was granted the title of Kapellmeister of the court in Dresden, and in the next decades he spent much time there, although he also was active elsewhere, in particular in Venice and Vienna. In Dresden his opera Cleofide was performed in 1731, and Johann Sebastian Bach and his eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann attended the premiere. It was a great success, and today this opera is available in a splendid recording under the direction of William Christie (Capriccio).

On 5 October 1763 Prince Augustus II died. His successor was facing a financial ruin, because of war expenditures and his father's generosity to a number of beneficiaries. Among them were Hasse and his wife, whose salaries were unequalled. The Hasse's were unceremoniously dumped, without even being granted a pension. They left Dresden for Vienna, where they were received with much respect.

On the occasion of Prince Augustus's death Hasse composed his Requiem in C, the main work on this disc. It reflects both the splendour of Dresden's court and its chapel and the operatic style of Hasse. The scoring is lavish, and bears witness to the virtually unlimited possibilities court composers in Dresden had at their disposal. Apart from strings and basso continuo the orchestra contains pairs of transverse flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and trumpets plus timpani. In particular the use of trumpets and timpani is unusual; one rather expects them in a piece like a Te Deum. But this Requiem is probably more a celebration of Augustus's life and reign than a commemoration of his death. The opening movement is especially telling in this respect. The character indication, 'non troppo lento, ma maestoso', can be taken quite literally here - majestic.

In his Requiem Hasse is also unashamedly operatic: many solo episodes are treated like opera arias, and include virtuosic coloraturas and sometimes even cadenzas. Examples are 'Exaudi orationem meam' (Introitus), 'Mors stupebit' and 'Quaerens me' (Dies irae). This doesn't mean there are no passages which breathe the sphere of a Requiem Mass. The alto aria 'Recordare, Jesu pie' (Dies irae) is one of the most moving and expressive episodes of this work. In the same section the alto solo 'Inter oves' suddenly changes in character on the words "In supplication and prostrate before Thee, with broken heart and turned to ashes, I beg Thee to take care of my last hour". The last words just fade away on the repetition of a single note.

The other work is in minor key, something one would expect in a piece with a text like 'Miserere mei, Deus' - "Have mercy upon me, O God", one of the penitential psalms. But even here there are coloraturas and cadenzas. In the doxology, for instance, the word "sancto" gets extended coloraturas and a cadenza, first in the voice, then in the orchestra. In the first section of this work the text is expressed with great eloquence, partly thanks to an effective use of crescendi in the orchestra. Great expression can be found in the solo sections in 'Ecce enim in iniquitatibus'. This section ends with a lively episode on the words "O give me the comfort of thy help again (...) then shall I teach thy ways to the wicked (...)". Very introverted is the second half of 'Libera me de sanguinibus': "Open thou my lips, O Lord: and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise".

This disc impressively demonstrates the quality of Hasse's sacred music as well as the qualities of Dresden's chapel. Not without reason it was considered the best orchestra of Europe. Il Fondamento leaves nothing to be desired; the orchestral score is brilliantly executed. No less impressive is the choir which is powerful and transparent. It shines in the more dramatic passages as well as in the episodes where Hasse makes use of the stile antico. Although there are four main solo parts the Requiem contains some passages for two altos or two tenors. The second voices are sung by Vincent Grégoire (alto) and Neil Johnson (tenor), both members of the choir. The bulk of the solo parts goes to the alto, and with the Argentine Susanna Moncayo von Hase this part is ideally cast. She has a nice and warm timbre and her low register is quite strong. No less impressive is Greta De Reyghere who in particular shines in 'Quoniam si voluisses' (Miserere). I have always had some trouble with Ian Honeyman whom I am tempted to compare with an unguided missile. I have heard him singing very beautifully, but also horribly. Sometimes his singing is a bit wild, but there is no doubt about his expressive capabilities. Dirk Snellings hasn't that much to do, but he sings his small part well.

Considering the quality of music and performance one can only be happy that this recording is available again. It delivers a perfect opportunity to get acquainted with Hasse's music. I invite the reader to try this disc, and I wouldn't be surprised if it would encourage him to look for other recordings of Hasse's music.

Johan van Veen



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