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Florian Leopold GASSMANN (1729-1774)
Ah, Ingrato Amor - Opera Arias
Ania Vegry (soprano)
NDR Radiophilharmonie/David Stern
rec. 2016/17, Kleiner Sendesaal im Landesfunkhaus Hannover, Germany
Sung texts with German and English translations enclosed
CPO 555 057-2 [64:59]

The Bohemian composer Florian Gassmann is not exactly a household name and he has left little imprint in the record catalogues. Little is also known about his early life but he obviously reached Venice when he was in his late twenties and between 1757 and 1762 he wrote an opera every year for the carnival season. These must have made some impressions since he in 1763 was called to Vienna as court ballet composer and was much appreciated by Emperor Joseph II. He composed around twenty operas but also orchestral works and chamber music. He had two daughters who became leading opera singers in Vienna. Unfortunately he died at the tender age of 45 as an after-effect from a traffic accident in Italy. He was in his day highly regarded as opera composer in the generation prior to Mozart but after his death most of his works fell into oblivion. It is only during the last few years that some of his music has been granted a new lease of life. Naxos, always eager to rescue little known music from the shadows, issued a disc some ten years ago with some of his opera overtures and a handful of other works have found their way to various compilations. Thus it is a pleasure to introduce this disc with arias from a half dozen of his operas.

My impression is that he was a highly professional composer in the then current style, i.e. the budding Vienna classicism without the personality of Haydn. He has a good sense for drama, and can also depict other emotions, sorrow, hate, melancholy. But after a good hour’s listening I felt that the musical expression is rather generalised. Attractive, well-wrought, not particularly memorable but efficient dramatically and grateful for a good singer.

And it was the singing that grabbed me by the throat from the very first moment. The singer’s name was unknown to me, but a quick check revealed that she is fairly well represented on CD. Ania Vegry was born I London as Anja Wegrzyn and played violin and piano from an early age and started her voice training in Hannover. It was also there, at the Staatsoper, she made her debut, aged 17, as the First boy in Mozart’s Zauberflöte. And the Staatsoper has remained her home stage, even though she has appeared as guest all around Germany. Hers is a youthful but mature grand voice – a Donna Anna – large but flexible, excellent technique, fluent coloratura. And it’s a beautiful voice with no blemishes. I felt at once that here I could relax, just close my eyes in full confidence that this was to be a safe but thrilling journey through a baker’s dozen of totally unknown arias by an almost unknown composer. The first aria, from Achille in Sciro was also first class. The libretto is by Metastasio, and that means that the text is also first class. Then follows three arias from Catone in Utica, also with a libretto by Metastasio, and this libretto is one of the most set in the history of opera. Written in 1727 for Leonardo Vinci it was also set by at least twenty other composers, including Leo, Hasse, Vivaldi, Graun, Jommelli, J. C. Bach, Piccinni and Paisiello. The first aria is martial with blaring trumpets, the third is beautiful – possibly the highspot on this disc and the singing is lovely. Back to Achille in Sciro for a last taste of Metastasio, and here the soloist excels in a lot of florid singing. Nessuno consola un povero core from La Zingara is nothing special and there are no references to gypsy music, which Haydn surely would have done. In the two arias from L’amore artigiano we meet another of the great 18th century librettists, Carlo Goldoni. The arias are nicely contrasted: Ah, che son fuor di me fast and intense, Che vuoi dir con questi palpiti slow and beautiful. Come mi sprezza ancora from unknown source is good but not special, while Cogli amanti from Le serve rivali definitely is a number to return to.

The remaining five pieces, all from L’opera seria introduce us to a third librettist of stature, Ranieri de’ Calzabigi. Gassmann obviously had good instinct for worthwhile texts. And here is some excellent music, for instance the recitative Dove son (tr. 13) with great leaps and the following aria Pallid’ ombra with obligato solo bassoon.

It is always interesting to encounter “new” composers from the past. Florian Gassmann was certainly a very competent musician, a professional in every respect. However there is a sameness about the music here that clearly tells us that it was written by the same composer but obviously he wasn’t able to individualise the music enough: without knowing the origin this could just as well be music from the same opera all the time. By all means this is criticism that could be directed against many composers. Suffice it to say that it is competent and attractive music well worth anyone’s acquaintance, but the greatest value with this disc is the superb singing of Ania Vegry. If CPO could fish out more unknown music of the same kind and entice Ania Vegry to record it I would gladly add that to my collection.

Göran Forsling

1. Involarmi from Achille in Sciro [4:40]
2. Se in campo armato from Catone in Utica [3:26]
3. Dovea svenarti allora from Catone in Utica [2:58]
4. Per darvi alcun pegno from Catone in Utica [5:30]
5. Ah, ingrato, amor from Achille in Sciro [7:39]
6. Nessuno consola un povero core from L’egiziana & La Zingara [3:39]
7. Ah, che son fuor di me from L’amore artigiano [2:14]
8. Che vuol dir con questi palpiti from L’amore artigiano [4:53]
9. Come mi sprezza ancora (unknown) [2:50]
10. Cogli amanti from Le serve rivali [3:33]
11. Barbara e non rammenti from L’opera seria [5:29]
12. Delfin che al laccio infido from L’opera seria [4:01]
13. Dove son from L’opera seria [4:36]
14. Pallid’ ombra from L’opera seria [6:01]
15. Saprei costante e ardita from L’opera seria [3:20]

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