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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)/Johann Simon MAYR (1763-1845)
Messa di Gloria and Credo in D [86:11]
Siri Karoline Thornhill, Marie-Sophie Pollak (sopranos), Marie-Sande Papenmeyer (mezzo-sorpano), Mark Adler (tenor), Martion Berner (bass).
Simon Mayr Choir, Members of Bavarian State Opera Chorus, Concerto de Bassus/Franz Hauk
rec. 22-26 September 2014, Asamkirche Maria de Victoria, Ingolstadt, Germany
NAXOS 8.573605 [86:19]

This is not a conscious collaboration between composers to produce a single coherent work in the manner of the Stabat Mater by Rossini and Tadolini, the Messe des pêcheurs de Villerville by Fauré and Messager, or the Messa per Rossini by Verdi and his dozen compatriots. It is a work concocted from various, often questionable, sources by Franz Hauk, that was almost certainly never intended as a single entity. Indeed, there are serious doubts as to the legitimacy of some of this music, and in cobbling it together as a Mass, Hauk has gone beyond mere editing into the realms of proxy composing.

The story as the booklet notes tell it: Donizetti had, “under Mayr’s patronage, set his sights mainly on writing church music”. Unfortunately, only one Messa di Gloria e Credo in C minor and a Messa di Requiem in morte di Vincenzo Bellini survive as substantive examples of that ambition. Working on the basis that the C minor work was “based on individual movements which Donizetti composed around 1820”, and that the work actually exists in two versions, Hauk decided to draw other isolated pieces into a stand-alone Mass. Noting that “Donizetti acted as Mayr’s musical assistant”, and that the latter “repeatedly incorporated” music by the former in his own compositions, Hauk decided to re-imagine what the combined work might have sounded like. He began with a Credo in E flat major, composed by Donizetti around 1820 which, four years later appeared transposed into D major for a service in honour of St Cecilia held in his native Bergamo. Donizetti’s Credo has been lost, and the music survives only in a full score written out by Mayr. Of this score, Mayr’s son-in-law wrote “this score is not by Donizetti, but transcribed by the famous G S Mayr”. As for the remainder of the movements, they all seem to be the work of Mayr (drawn, it would seem, from the 277 individual Mass movements Grove lists in its entry on Mayr). The one exception is a setting of Ave Maria, gratia plena which Donizetti composed in the early 1840s.

The lack of historic credibility may well put some off from dipping their toes into this apparently uncharted water, but it should be pointed out that Franz Hauk has been a tireless advocate of Simon Mayr’s music, and what this disc lacks in historical legitimacy, it more than makes up for in performance conviction.

Franz Hauk is an organist who has made several particularly fine recordings on the organ of Ingolstadt Minster, where he has been organist since 1992. He has brought into the catalogues a whole wealth of forgotten and intriguing works, as well as some very impressive Bach discs, all on the Guild label. His involvement on disc with Mayr, who was born in Ingolstadt in 1763, dates back to 1999 and so far has run to 4 discs for the Guild label and eleven for Naxos. On this latest release he conducts the Simon Mayr Choir which he himself formed in 2003, along with members of the chorus of Bavarian Opera and an ensemble going under the name of Concerto de Bassus about which the booklet tells us nothing but which the Naxos website describes as “outstanding students or graduates of the University of Music and Performing Arts, Munich”.

The orchestra certainly gives a strongly melodramatic edge to the openings bars of the Kyrie, which is even more powerfully conveyed by the chorus. Possibly bass Martin Berner does not have quite the gravitas this music needs, although tenor Mark Adler has a splendidly agile quality, and mezzo-soprano Marie-Sande Papenmeyer and soprano Siri Karoline Thornhill are particularly impressive in the ensemble passages. Hauk’s direction is tight, crisp and precise, with strongly marked accents and vivid dynamic contrasts. His brisk, no-nonsense sense of purpose, drives the music through all kinds of basic weaknesses and inconsistencies on which, with a less committed hand at the tiller, it might be inclined to founder. I particularly admire the way he maintains an almost Mozartian elegance in music which, rather too often, has the orchestral allure of a fairground organ; Mayr seemed partial to jaunty clarinets in thirds.

A delightful Laudamus te, has a strong Mozart-feel, and while Norwegian soprano Siri Karoline Thornhill gives an utterly charming, richly florid account, perhaps the most delightful thing here is the bubbling orchestral accompaniment which has a lovely transparency. A long and deliciously chromatic clarinet solo leads into the Domine Deus, which is a fine vehicle for Berner’s light but nimble bass. The booklet notes tell us that the extensive violin solo which introduces the Qui sedes was written for Pietro Rovelli; that it was written for some virtuoso is clear from the astonishing insertion of a virtuoso cadenza which exists purely to display a violinist of note. Here it’s played by Theona Gubba-Chkheidze with a gentle, unassuming charm which seems to match the contemporary descriptions of Rovelli’s playing as “simple, expressive, graceful, noble”. Matching this is Mark Adler’s delightfully clear and unpretentious tenor line.

There is a youthful fragility about the soprano of Marie-Sophie Pollak, which I find quite endearing in the Et incarnatus est of the Credo, but is particularly suited to Donizetti’s lovely setting of the Ave Maria. Largely built around her and the three lower voices of the solo quartet, this performance has an endearing naivety which seems a world away from the opera stage. Unfortunately the heavy orchestration of the Sanctus, Benedictus (with its half-hearted Rossini-like crescendo) and Agnus Dei (with its thinly-disguised references to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony) often proves too weighty for the same light and pure solo quartet to make much headway, but the unequivocally operatic Hosannas, with trumpet and drum fanfares, show off the chorus to a particularly impressive effect.
Marc Rochester



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