Simon MAYR (1763-1845)
Tobiae matrimonium (1794) [95.19]
Raguel - Judith Spiesser (soprano)
Anna - Margriet Buchberger (soprano)
Sara - Cornelia Horak (soprano)
Tobias - Stefanie Irányi (mezzo)
Archangel Raphael - Susanne Bernhard (soprano)
Simon Mayr Chorus and Ensemble/Franz Hauk (director and harpsichord)
rec. 14-18 July 2007, Assam Church of Maria de Victoria, Ingolstadt, Germany
NAXOS 8.570752-53 [56.36 + 38.43]

Just by the Ponte del Soccorso in Venice stands the church of San Raffaele Arcangelo; built in 1518 to designs by Francesco Contin, though with a later façade, the church contains, on the railing of an organ of 1750, five paintings by Giannantonio Guardi which tells the story of Tobias, paintings which probably also date from around 1750. One of the paintings is reproduced on the front of this pair of two CD set from Naxos. Indeed, Guardi’s canvases, with their rococo-like use of the lighter colours of, say, Tiepolo, rather than the richer ones of Titian or Veronese, make an excellent visual accompaniment or analogy for Simon Mayr’s very attractive oratorio.

Born in Augsburg, Mayr made his way to Bergamo by 1789, to study with Carlo Lenzi, who was maestro di cappella at the basilica of S. Maria Maggiore. This arrangement proved unsatisfactory for some reason, however, and one of the canons of S. Maria Maggiore, Count Pesenti, arranged for him to study instead with Ferdinando Bertoni, maestro di cappella of San Marco in Venice. Mayr soon established himself in the musical life of Venice - and, one would like to think, saw Guardi’s canvases. After his initial studies, he based himself back in Bergamo, while writing many stage works for Venice and elsewhere and becoming an influential teacher: Donizetti was one of his students. Tobiae matrimonium is an early work, written for performance in Venice and setting a libretto by Giuseppe Maria Foppa (available online at, in Latin and in German translation; there is no sign, however, of the English translation promised on the back cover of the CD). There had been, of course, many other musical treatments of the story of Tobias - Mayr’s own teacher Bertoni wrote one in 1773 and there were others by Anfossi (1780) and Galuppi (1782). Perhaps the most familiar predecessor is Haydn’s Il ritorno di Tobia (1775/84). All derive, ultimately, from the story of Tobias as recounted in The Book of Tobit. Most treatments of the story concentrate on Tobias’s return and his miraculous cure of his father’s blindness. Tobiae matrimonium, as its title suggests, places its emphasis almost exclusively upon Tobias’s marriage to Sara, daughter of Raguel and Anna, in Ecbatana. This episode is also rather infrequently treated by painters illustrating the story of Tobias - although, as we have seen, Guardi was an exception to this.

Mayr’s music is full of vitality and energy and good tunes are plentiful. Though this is a Latin oratorio - and was probably performed by the women of the Ospidale dei Mendicanti - it is of operatic music that one is most often reminded, music such as that of Cimarosa or Paisiello. Perhaps not coincidentally Mayr’s first opera, Saffo, was performed at the Teatro La Fenice in the very same years as Tobiae matrimonium, and Mayr went on to compose many further works for the stage.

This performance of Tobiae matrimonium makes a very good case for the work. All of the soloists are thoroughly competent, and handle Mayr’s occasionally complex passage-work with fair bravura. No one lets the side down at all, though perhaps it is Cornelia Hauk, as Sara, who catches the ear most completely. The direction of Franz Hauk is exemplary and well informed - his scholarly credentials, indeed, are evident from the note on ‘The Sources’ that he contributes to the CD booklet. The excellent documentation also includes an introduction and synopsis (by Anja Morgenstern), a note on the Biblical background (by Isidor Vollnhals) and observations on ‘The Oratorio Performance Practice of the Mendicanti’ (by Iris Winkler).

All in all this is the sort of issue which - if we had not been spoiled by so much of what Naxos has done in recent years - we would rush to proclaim an astonishing bargain. We still should.

Glyn Pursglove 

see also review by Robert Hugill