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Giovanni Alberto RISTORI (1692-1753)
Lavinia a Turno [18:42]
Didone abbandonata [20:08]
Nice a Tirsi [17:57]
Concerto in E-flat Major for Oboe, Strings and Basso Continuo [11:25]
Maria Savastano (soprano)
Jon Olaberria (oboe)
Ensemble Diderot/Johannes Pramsohler
rec. August 2016, Gustav-Mahler-Saal, Toblach
World premiere recordings
AUDAX ADX13711 [68:12]

Exploring the lesser-known byways of the repertoire has been a guiding principle of Johannes Pramsohler and his Ensemble Diderot. Giovanni Alberto Ristori is one such composer. I have certainly never come across his name before. He hails from an era of the great flowering of baroque music in Dresden that characterized the reigns of August II (1670-1733) and his son August III (1696-1763). Ristori, for some reason, has vanished from collective memory, overshadowed by his more famous contemporaries Hasse, Zelenka, Pisendel, Weiss and Quantz. This is surprising. He gave almost forty years of service to the Saxon/Polish court, composing operas, serenatas, intermezzi, cantatas and numerous sacred works. I note that hardly any of that music has been recorded. During his time at the court, he acted as a music teacher to members of the royal family.

1747 was a significant year. Crown Prince Friedrich Christian, son of August III, married his first cousin Maria Antonia, daughter of Bavarian Elector and Emperor Charles VII. The multi-talented Maria Antonia was an aspiring poet, singer, keyboard player and lutenist. Ristori set the three cantatas in this recording to libretti she wrote. Didone abbandonata is the earliest, and she sang in its performance on 6 October 1748, accompanied by the composer and a group of musicians. A month later, on 12 November, Lavinia a Turno was performed. We are less certain date-wise as to Nice a Tirsi, but it is likely to have been premiered in 1749, again with Maria Antonia doing the vocal honours.

Maria Antonia turned to Virgil’s Aeneid for the subjects of her two 1748 cantatas, both framed in tragedy. Lavinia a Turno relates the story of Lavinia, daughter of King Latino, who is given to Aenis in marriage. Aenis, in turn, kills Turno who had originally been promised to her. Didone abbandonata tells how Didone loses her lover Aeneas and commits suicide. Nice a Tirsi has a less intense vein. It portrays Nice’s sense of loss at the absence of the shepherd Tirsi. He is represented by a solo oboe. The final aria is a love duet for soprano and oboe, laden with joyous abandon. Unusually, the cantata begins with a march rather than the usual recitative. For me, the central aria Non v’ duolo ugale al mio seems to have strong echoes of Pergolesi.

The Oboe Concerto was probably written for the Italian virtuoso Antonio Besozzi. Ristori broke new ground in pushing the boundaries of the instrument’s technical possibilities. Jon Olaberria meets the demands admirably. The work contains some additions and modifications by Johann Georg Pisendel, who probably added the short Andante movement at the beginning. The other three movements are cast in the fast-slow-fast pattern. The outer more spirited movements frame a central Grave, which is notable for its intensely lyrical line.

The performances, uniformly excellent, sustain a high degree of polish and refinement under the inspirational and sensitive direction of Johannes Pransohler. The Ensemble Diderot, a small ensemble of about fifteen players, provide committed and stylish accompaniments. Maria Savastano's appealing voice, well suited to this repertoire, encompasses a wide range of expression, glides over the music's technical demands with unruffled ease. She is captured vividly, carefully positioned and ideally balanced in the sound picture. The acoustic is well-nigh perfect, enabling clarity and warmth to emerge. The CD is housed in a gatefold of superb quality, accompanied by a 70-page booklet in German, English and French. It provides a wealth of detail regarding historical background to the music. Texts and translations are also provided.

These world premiere recordings should help win Ristori many new friends.

Stephen Greenbank



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