Franz Xaver RICHTER (1709 - 1789)
Synfonia con fuga in G minor [19:12]
De Profundis ŕ 12 voci [10:51]
Messa de Requiem ŕ 16 voci [33:45]
Lenka Cafourková Ďuricová (soprano), Marketá Cokrová (alto), Romain Champion (tenor), Jiří Miroslav Procházka (bass)
Czech Ensemble Baroque Orchestra and Choir/Roman Válek
rec. 2014, St Michael’s Church, Znojmo
SUPRAPHON SU4177-2 [64:04]

Franz Xaver Richter’s origins are associated with Moravia, but his working life was anything but parochial. Skills acquired in Vienna and Italy raised his employability and saw him engaged in several palaces in Germany in the 1730s and 1740s. He is known to have travelled widely before becoming Kapellmeister of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Strasbourg, dying just before the French Revolution saw the abolition of those ancient institutions in which he had worked for decades.

The mixture of styles in Richter’s work can be heard throughout this programme, from the Pergolesi-like opening of the Synfonia and use of orchestral sonorities from Mannheim to the operatic virtuosity of his vocal writing. Superb playing from the Czech Ensemble Baroque delivers a purity of sound which is pretty much the ideal for our idea of how this music should have sounded in the 18th century – it would certainly he hard to imagine the composer having much to complain about.

The Synfonia con fuga is assumed to come from Richter’s time in Mannheim, and as a ‘church sinfonia’ in everything but name its inclusion here suits very well indeed. The work is more than just a filler, with its vibrant inventiveness and colourful sequences it goes beyond galant frippery while stopping short of C.P.E. Bach’s striking waywardness.

Both De Profundis and the Messa de Requiem are from Richter’s 20-year tenure in Strasbourg, and both works are highly representative of the opulence possible during one of the most significant periods in the cities history. His church ensemble was at that time the second largest in France, and the richness in sound from these works is very fine indeed. Psalm 129, De Profundis clamavi was commissioned for funeral masses, and the symbolism of its C minor key of mourning, resolving finally into a more hopeful C major in the final Requiem aeternam are just two elements in an impressive and often highly expressive work.

The Messa de Requiem was reportedly composed for the composer’s own funeral, and the booklet notes open with a quote from Christian Friedrich Schubart, describing how Richter passed away with the score in his hand. This may or may not be true, but we can hardly disagree with the claim that it “encapsulates the quintessence of his legacy.” With added trumpets and timpani this is the kind of larger scale requiem which it is not hard to imagine in a line leading towards the grand examples by the likes of Verdi. Set pieces such as the operatic soprano solo Quid sum miser and dramatic Confutatis maledictis of the Dies irae are innovative sounding in this context, and the work’s transitional feel is heightened by their contrast with more antique contrapuntal music which Richter took from Johann Joseph Fux much earlier in his career and held onto throughout.

This is a substantial Requiem, and within its high-Classical idiom has plenty of heartfelt and beautifully poignant moments. The power of the work is rendered with the utmost refinement and musicality by all concerned, with all soloists very strong, and soprano Lenka Cafourková Ďuricová deserving of mention as the topping to a very unified and superbly balanced musical cake. Supraphon has made this into nicely presented release, the booklet containing all Latin texts and translations into English, German, French and Czech. If seeking beyond the more familiar choral music of Haydn and Mozart results in unearthing these kinds of glories I for one would welcome digging ever deeper into the archives of the obscure and unpublished.

Dominy Clements

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