Simon MAYR (1763-1845)
Concerto in D minor for flute, clarinet, basset horn, piccolo and orchestra - Concerto Bergamasco [24:57]
Keyboard Concerto in C major [16:17]
Trio Concertante in A minor for three violins and orchestra [12:09]
Natalie Schwaabe (flute and piccolo); Andrea Steinberg (clarinet and basset horn); Antonio Spiller, Yi Li and David van Dijk (violins)
Bavarian Classical Players/Franz Hauk (harpsichord and conductor)
rec. Neues Schloss, Fahnensaal, Ingolstadt, Germany, 19-22 September 2007
NAXOS 8.570927 [53:36]
Simon Mayr is best known today for his operas and as a teacher of Donizetti. He became the leading Italian opera composer at the start of the nineteenth century before Rossini took over that position and Mayr turned his attention to other forms of composition. His operas, in particular Medea in Corinto,have now obtained a position on the fringe of the repertoire but even then he cannot be said to be a frequently encountered composer (see review of the oratorio Samuele). This disc, recorded near his birthplace in Ingolstadt, is therefore to be welcomed as providing a chance to hear two of his late works and one from much earlier in his career.
The most interesting and enjoyable of the three is the Concerto Bergamasco of 1820. Although this makes use of four solo instruments only two players are employed here. It was indeed written for a single player who took each instrument in turn, involving him in what must have been some very quick changes towards the end. It is in three main movements. The first is for flute only and quotes bizarrely from other composers - some sort of unexplained programme seems to be involved. This is followed by a movement for clarinet. The final movement consists of a slow introduction and a set of variations making use of all four instruments. Even with two rather than one player and without the benefit of seeing the changes this is an entertaining work with much real musical invention. Given good clear recording and a fluent and idiomatic performance this is something likely to appeal both to opera enthusiasts wanting to know more about the composer and to anyone seeking to explore the byways of early nineteenth century instrumental music.
The other works are interesting too if not quite so striking. The Trio Concertante, also from around 1820, makes use of three solo violins, for much of the time individually rather than as a group. It is put together in a craftsman-like way but lacks the individuality of the Concerto Bergamasco. There is little here which demands a second hearing. The Keyboard Concerto is played on the harpsichord and dates from around 1800. It is very much in the lingua franca of the period, with the influence of Haydn in particular being evident. It makes pleasant listening and is convincingly played but it is unlikely to be an essential addition to most collections.
Previous encounters with Mayr’s music showed a composer of great skill, especially in his use of instrumental textures but rarely capable of memorable invention, in particular melodic invention. This disc has not changed that impression. Nonetheless, despite this and a short overall playing time, the charms of the Concerto Bergamasco are considerable. You may well want this disc as it usefully fills in one of those gaps in the catalogue that you probably never knew were there.  

John Sheppard
The charms of the Concerto Bergamasco are considerable.