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Cantatas for Soprano

 

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Simon MAYR (1763–1845)
Il sogno di Partenope (The Dream of Parthenopia: Cantata Opera) (1817)
Partenope - Andrea Lauren Brown (soprano)
Minerva - Sara Hershkowitz (soprano)
Urania - Caroline Adler (soprano)
Tersicore - Florence Lousseau (mezzo)
Mercurio - Cornel Frey (tenor)
Apollo - Robert Sellier (tenor)
Il Tempo - Andreas Burkhart (bass)
Members of the Bavarian State Opera Chorus
Simon Mayr Chorus and Ensemble/Franz Hauk
World première recording
rec. Kongregationssaal, Neuburg an der Donau, Germany, 2012. DDD
Libretto and translations available online.
Reviewed as lossless CD-quality download from eclassical.com.
NAXOS 8.573236 [65:56]

Naxos have made several recordings of the Simon Mayr Chorus and Ensemble under the direction of Franz Hauk in the music of their eponymous composer which have been (very) well received by myself (the Te Deum) and several of my colleagues:

• Concertos – Recording of the Month – reviewreview and review
• L’Armonia and Cantata on the Death of Beethovenreview
• David in Spelunca Engedireview
• Samuele – Recording of the Month – review and review
• Il Sagrifizio di Jeftereview
• Te Deum (with Mozart Missa solemnis in C) – review
• Tobiæ Matrimoniumreview and review

I admit to being a little less entranced by the new recording. Il Sogno di Partenope is classified as a cantata opera, a form which briefly filled the gap between the old opera seria of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth-century melodrama, of neither of which I am over-fond. Having tried without much success with even Mozart’s opere serie, La Clemenza di Tito and Idomeneo Re di Creta – at least I’ve never come to love or even enjoy either as much as Don Giovanni, Figaro or Die Zauberflöte – I’m happy to confess that it’s probably a personal idiosyncrasy that left me disappointed with the new release by comparison with my enjoyment of the Te Deum. Nor am I a great fan of the early Rossini operas to which, as Thomas Linder writes in the booklet, the cantata opera opened the way.

Of the work which was performed for King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies in 1817, to celebrate the reopening of the Naples Theatre damaged by fire the previous year, only the second part has survived. Perhaps part of my comparative lack of enthusiasm can be laid at the door of the fact that what we have is an incomplete work. With so many very fine Mayr/Naxos recordings already on offer and, presumably, more to come – Mayr was a very prolific composer – I’d advise sampling this new release first if you can. Subscribers to the very valuable Naxos Music Library will find it there, together with a link to the booklet and libretto.

What remains consists of some attractive music which improves as the act progresses: at least I found myself warming to it more beyond the mid-point. It’s well, often very well, performed and, in any case, it’s the first and only recording. Andrea Lauren Brown has the lion’s share of the solo singing and she copes very well with some often taxing music which might well merit the name of bel canto. I’d have liked to have heard the Queen of bel canto, Joan Sutherland, in her prime sing some of this music, but I doubt if she could have done very much better. Try E fia ver già? track 13. The libretto, lauding the King of the Two Sicilies who was present in the audience – the word RE is even capitalised in the text – as the image of God, is hardly conducive to modern appreciation, but lovers of fine singing will enjoy the music and the performance of this aria.

Perhaps the performers warmed more and more to the music, like me, as the act progressed? That was certainly my impression.

I know it’s not the case that I don’t warm to Mayr in general, as that Te Deum review demonstrates, but I listened from Naxos Music Library to another recording in this series just to be sure: Arianna in Nasso (Ariadne on Naxos, 1818) is another dramatic cantata, this time in one act and surviving in its entirety (Naxos 8.573065 – recorded in 2007) and we don’t seem to have reviewed it. There are only two characters, Ariadne and Bacchus, and the plot is less convoluted – the familiar story of Ariadne’s abandonment and discovery by the god Bacchus (Dionysus), which Gluck and Richard Strauss both employed for operas.

Cornelia Horak as Ariadne doesn’t have quite the same vocal range and technique as Andrea Lauren Brown – both roles were written for Isabella Colbran, later to be the wife of Rossini – but the text and music hang together better than Il Sogno di Partenope and the recording is a little more immediate.

Even at a higher volume than usual I found the recording of Il Sogno a little distant. I started listening with my DAC set for 96kHz – it’s a small problem with the otherwise excellent Dragonfly that it doesn’t automatically read the correct setting but has to be changed manually – but even changing to the correct 44kHz setting didn’t improve matters very much. Just as I warmed more to the music and performances as matters progressed, however, so the recording seemed to become rather more immediate.

The booklet offers helpful notes about the music but only a very brief synopsis of the somewhat convoluted plot. The libretto and translation are not included but can be found online. The text of the dedication and the missing Part I are also included.

Overall, then, though I warmed much more to the music, performance and recording towards the end of the work, I would suggest that those embarking on their first exploration of the music of Mayr begin with one of the other recordings that I have listed. Alternatively, you may wish to sample Il Sogno di Partenope first.

Brian Wilson

Previous review: Göran Forsling

 




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