Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) Te Deum for chorus, orchestra and organ in C major, Hob. XXIIIc:2 (c. 1798/1800) [9:08]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Cantata on the Death of the Emperor Joseph II, for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, WoO87 (1790) [37:46]
Cantata on the Accession of Emperor Leopold II, WoO 88 (1790) [25:09]
Eva Müllerová (soprano); Edita Adlerová (mezzo); Aleš Vorácek (tenor); Matej Chadima (bass); Alexandra Pridalová (flute); Jirí Šlechta (cello); Jan Steyer (harpsichord/organ); The Prague Mixed Choir/Jan Steyer, Jirí Petrdlík
Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra of South Bohemia/Jirí Petrdlík
rec. live, 13-14 June 2012, Otakar Jeremias Concert Hall, Ceské Budejovice, Czech Republic
No sung texts provided
ARCO DIVA, UP 0148-2 131 [72:16]
This release from Czech label Arco Diva is a live recording of two concerts held in June 2012.. The programme is of three rarely heard works separated by only ten years. Arco Diva has titled this release Cantatas ad honorem Austriae domus which has been translated for me as Cantatas in honour of the Austrian Court.
The Haydn work is a traditional hymn of joy and thanksgiving and is thought to have been performed for the Empress Marie Therese during the visit of Lord Horatio Nelson with Lady Hamilton to the Esterházy palace at Eisenstadt in 1800. Richly scored and splendidly concise the Te deum is a product of the final decade of Haydn’s life demonstrating his firm command of contrapuntal forms. It seems that this cheerful work, overflowing with pious conviction, fell into neglect for many decades before undergoing a revival around the time of the 150th anniversary of Haydn’s death in 1959. Haydn did compose another Te deum Hob.XXIIIc:1 which is also in the key of C major. It originated from the composer’s early years at the Esterházy court, first performed it seems in 1763 at Eisenstadt.
I have a highly recommendable account of the Te deum, Hob. XXIIIc:2 splendidly performed with compelling sacred devotion conducted by Ferenc Fricsay and the RIAS Chamber Choir, North German Radio Choir and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. Fricsay recorded the score live at Sender Freies Berlin in 1961 and this is now one of ‘The Originals’ series on Deutsche Grammophon 289 463 612-2 (c/w Mozart: Great Mass in C minor, K427). Another account of Hob. XXIIIc:2 that I admire using period instruments was recorded by the Arnold Schoenberg Choir and the Concentus musicus Wien directed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Recorded in 1996 at Casino Zögernitz, Vienna the performance is part of an impressive 6-disc box set of Haydn sacred music featuring four late Masses on Warner Classics 2564 69939-8.
Beethoven was aged only nineteen in 1790 when he composed these two pieces. For the pair of cantatas Beethoven used a text by Anton Severin Averdonk that was chosen by the Reading Society of Bonn who commissioned the works. It is known that both cantatas were never performed during Beethoven’s lifetime. Only very rarely are these scores performed and I should think that even their very existence is unknown to many Beethoven admirers. Beethoven had experienced the death of his own mother and whilst writing the lengthy Joseph Cantata would in all probability have been able to empathise with the feeling of intense grief that prevailed after the untimely death of Emperor Joseph II.
The aria Da kam Joseph (Then came Joseph) is sung with a dark threatening tone by the impressive Prague bass Matej Chadima. A real highlight was the aria for soprano with chorus ‘Da stiegen die Menschen an’s Licht’ (Then mankind climb toward the light). Incidentally in the booklet it incorrectly states ‘bass’ not ‘soprano’. Soprano Eva Müllerová was initially a touch unsteady before settling down satisfactorily. The Czech soprano does rather grab at the top notes and sounds slightly shrill but overall this remains an attractive and enthusiastic performance. At point 3:05 (track 5) the moment when the soprano is joined quietly by the choir is quite magical and another highlight of the release. Some excellent woodwind playing is a pleasing feature of this aria and the disc overall.
The Leopold Cantata is a jubilant work written to celebrate the accession of Emperor Leopold II to the imperial throne. I especially enjoyed the soprano aria ‘Fliesse, Wonnezähre, fliesse!’ (Flow, tears of joy, flow!) with its prominent flute and cello parts. Required to sing with operatic coloratura Eva Müllerová imparts drama to Beethoven’s demanding writing. The slight shrillness and note-grabbing is still evident but the overall effect is satisfying. Once again the obbligato parts for cello and flute add extra colour. Another rather operatic touch is the inclusion of the trio for soprano, tenor and bass ‘Ihr, die Joseph ihren Vater nannten, weint nicht mehr!’ (You, who called Joseph your father, cry no more!). In a fine performance the voices of soloists Eva Müllerová, Aleš Vorácek and Matej Chadima blend exceedingly well.
Probably the best known recording that includes both the Joseph Cantata and the Leopold Cantata is from Matthew Best conducting a fine group of soloists and the Corydon Singers and Orchestra. Best made this admirable recording in 1997 at the Blackheath Concert Halls, London. It can be found on Hyperion CDA 66880.
These performances are full of vitality and intensity. I was pleased with Petrdlík’s committed approach and well judged tempi, however, when compared to my recommended accounts the contributions of the soloists sounded a touch uneven with the Prague choir and South Bohemia orchestra not quite able to match the level of expression and unison.
Even though this Arco Diva release is aimed at the English-speaking world as well as the Czech home market disappointingly there are no texts included. The listener is left frustrated at not being able to understand what is being sung. I know some of the meaning of the Latin Te Deum laudamus (O God, we praise Thee) but certainly not the whole text. It’s high time that this practice of leaving out texts (and translation where necessary) from the booklet ceased. No texts have been made available on the Arco Diva website either. Recorded at the Otakar Jeremias Concert Hall in Ceské Budejovice the sound quality is agreeable. This is a live recording and some audience noise is slightly detectable but nothing too problematic. The engineers have left in the applause after the final score only.
In short this is a fascinating and well performed release that Beethoven and Haydn enthusiasts will want to consider owning.
Michael Cookson
A fascinating and well performed release that Beethoven and Haydn enthusiasts will want to consider.