Johann Adolf Hasse was, by the mid-eighteenth century probably the leading
German representative of Italian operatic composition. This esteem is hard
to imagine in a time when his reputation has lowered but this is largely
because his brand of opera seria
had begun to be eclipsed even in
his own lifetime. Recordings began the process of reclamation and this is
similarly the case with his cantatas and instrumental music. This disc
promotes both these genres, though it is honest in facing up to the problems
inherent in dating the cantatas in particular, given that the near-80 that
exist today survive in copies and few clues survive as to the defining
reason for their creation.
There is an equal split between both genres in this disc. The cantatas are
laid out on unexceptional lines, two recitatives and two arias, largely
. They are concise and lack narrative or dramatic plotting
relying instead on a simple thematic element – such as, for example, the
idea of parting in Bella mi parto, a Dio
. In the case of Se il
cantor trace, oh Dio
the unhappy lovers are explicitly contrasted with
Orpheus, a mythic allusion that presumably explains the existence of the
instrumental prelude. Where Hasse is especially inventive is his employment
of a string-based recitative accompaniment that adds breath and density to
the writing. It also adds a greater theatrical quotient, often contrasting
in the element of colour employed.
The three cantatas have been astutely selected. Ah, troppo è ver!
conforms to established principles and features a first aria substantially
longer than the concluding one – which remains true of all three cantatas.
Counter-tenor Kai Wessel’s vocal production is especially erratic here. The
high point of Bella, mi parto, a Dio
is its C minor elegy of a
first aria whilst Se il cantor
sports an opening instrumental
introduction before the recitative. Wessel is an experienced singer but back
in 1998 – which is when these recordings were made – his chest voice is out
of scale, and there are too many oddities for general listening pleasure.
The phrasing is often highly persuasive but one has to contend with the
The instrumental; music is nicely varied. The sonata for two violins is
compact and occasionally dramatic, whilst the Harpsichord sonata – in two
movements – reflects the influence of Domenico Scarlatti, all to the good.
The Mandolin Concerto – mandolin, two violins, and basso continuo - was
intended for private and not public performance Tuneful and avoiding
over-complexities of constructions it leaves a fine impression in this
Hasse collectors will welcome this disc, despite my misgivings, as the
repertoire is still rare on disc. Others should exercise more caution.