Until thirty years ago Johann Simon Mayr had long been neglected
as an important composer. He was promoted by John Stewart Allitt,
a founder member of the now thriving Donizetti Society, with
his authoritative biographies of the composer (1989/1995). Mayr
is significant since it was he who had tutored the young Donizetti
in Bergamo, Italy. He can rightly be regarded as the father
of 19th century Italian operatic and church music.
This oratorio, with its forward-looking inspiration, was written
at a time when Donizetti was working on La Zingara and
while the young Bellini was still a student at the Naples Conservatoire.
In Mayr’s works lie the roots of the bel canto
opera tradition. We welcome the enthusiasm shown by Franz Hauk
in bringing out another Mayr oratorio to add to the substantial
Naxos Mayr series (L’Armonia;
of Tobias; Te
in spelunca Engaddi) and also from Guild (Mass;
Despite the rarity of this work another CD of it by Pelucchi
exists on Nuova Era. However, that disc has an unnaturally wide
reverberation that seriously muddies the detail of the singing.
For me it is an uncomfortable listening experience.
When one hears Mayr’s music one is immediately reminded
of the influence that Mozart and the German school at large
had had on his style. This is understandably so because he was
born in Bavaria and went to university there to read Theology
rather than Music. His musical education began in earnest when
he studied in Italy under Bertoni. Even so he could not shake
off the latent German background that to me colours his style.
It is possible that Lortzing picked up more than a few ideas
from Mayr since the quartet, Ah, madre has a distinctive
Samuele is unusual because it is mainly made up of parodies
of some of the composer’s previous operas including Atar,
and La rosa bianca. It has charming moments and throughout
there are choral numbers that are uplifting and inject an added
brightness. Unusual aspects involve the inclusion of two short
march interludes, and a section of spoken words with simple
instrumental backing. The stately opening hymn, Alfine in
petto l’anima, taken at lively pace, immediately engages
and holds the listener.
The breezy recitatives and arias sung by Andrea Lauren Brown
(Samuele) are adorable for their legato, effortless top notes
and sincerity of delivery. Her aria, Dio, che immortal
is stunning with its delicacy and lightness of touch. Elsewhere
her versatile flourishes blend well with the warm acoustics
of the Asamkirche Maria de Victoria, Ingolstadt. Jens Hamann
is compassionate in his aria, Esser degli esseri and
displays good clarity in the duet, Che tento. A lovely
duet, Oh più cara è a me la vita for Anna
and Elcana reveals the healthy balance and timbre of these excellent
voices; they depict young parents. This latter duet demonstrates
Mayr’s inventive versatility when it comes to interesting
musical ideas and moving colours.
In Part I of Samuele, a biblical narrative from the Old
Testament sets the background. Samuel’s parents (Elcana
and Anna) and family are on their annual journey to Shiloh where
Samuel has been entrusted to a Priest, Eli, at the temple. They
have come to see their son and to offer sacrifice. In Part II,
at Shiloh the plot focuses on the calling of Samuel as a prophet.
The divine prophecy given by God is relayed to Priest Eli when
the sacrifice takes place, an awesome event witnessed by the
Levites who then give praise to God on high.
This enjoyable recording is well defined and attractive in the
case of the slightly recessed soloists and with a particular
clarity accorded to the woodwind and string sections. The booklet
carries a short section on Mayr, detail of Mayr’s sources
for the oratorio and a synopsis in English and German. A long
piece on librettist, Merelli by Iris Winkler neglects to comment
on how or why Samuel’s parent’s names were changed.
We are also in the dark about why Samuele was changed to a female
when it would have been possible that the role of Samuel was
originally sung by a male treble voice. Such distortion of a
biblical story seems very odd.
Raymond J Walker