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Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783)
Cantatas and Chamber Music
Ah, troppo ่ ver! [18:22]
Sonata for two violins and bass continuo (pub, after 1742) [6:52]
Bella, mi parto, a Dio [13:10]
Sonata for Harpsichord in C major, Op.7 (1758) [7:49]
Concerto for Mandolin, two violins and basso continuo [6:12]
Se il cantor trace, o Dio [17:26]
Kai Wessel (counter-tenor)
Musica Alta Ripa
rec. November 1998, Stephansstift Hannover
Texts in Italian and German

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 da capo. 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 ่ 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 voice itself.

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 recording.

Hasse collectors will welcome this disc, despite my misgivings, as the repertoire is still rare on disc. Others should exercise more caution.

Jonathan Woolf