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Les Barbares Galantes - Masterworks by German composers in Moscow 1770-1790
Sebastian GEORGE (c1740-1796)
Quintet in F (SG VIII,5) [13:37]
Johann Joseph (Ivan) KERZELLI (1752-1820)
Trio in C minor, Op 1,5 [09:50]
Johann Heinrich FACIUS (1759-after 1810)
Duetto in D, Op 1,3 [19:04]
Johann Joseph (Ivan) KERZELLI
Trio in A minor, Op 1,1 [10:53]
Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809), arr anon
Symphony in C 'La Roxelane' (H I,63):
Andante poco allegretto [03:54]
Sebastian GEORGE
Concertino in G (SG VIII,1) [12:13]
Ensemble Altera Pars
rec. 2020, Studio Radio Bremen, Germany
PERFECT NOISE PN2007 [69:47]

Today the musical landscape in the realm of 'early music' is very differentiated. Music from Germany, Italy, France and England still dominates the programmes of concerts and commercial recordings, but there is an increasing interest in music from other regions in Europe, such as Poland, (former) Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Some time ago Jordi Savall explored the musical heritage of the Balkan region. The repertoire even crosses the borders of the continent as the often surprisingly rich archives in Latin America are explored. One region on the European continent has remained a kind of terra incognita, at least for the mainstream interpreters of early music. I am talking here about Russia: music from this country which is performed today in concert halls and is recorded on disc dates from the 19th and 20th centuries. A special case is the liturgical music which is the almost exclusive domain of Russian choirs.

Until the late 17th century Russia was very much isolated, and there were very few contacts with the western and central parts of Europe. It was tsar Peter the Great (1672-1725) who opened the windows to the West and was especially impressed by the French monarchy under Louis XIV. However, it were his successors who imported music and musicians from outside the country. Some years ago Cecilia Bartoli recorded a disc with the title "St Petersburg", in which she investigated how Italian opera made its way into the Russian empire.

Three tsaritsas figure prominently in the story of Italian music in Russia. The first was Anna Ioannovna who ruled from 1730 to 1740. Under her rule the first Italian opera company settled in St Petersburg, with Domenico Dall'Oglio at its helm. Anna was succeeded by Elizabeth (1741-1761); at the occasion of her coronation in 1742 La clemenza di Tito by Hasse was performed, preceded by a prologue, written for the occasion by Dall'Oglio and his fellow composer Luigi Madonis. Elizabeth continued the opening towards the West and especially the embracement of musical developments over there. The third tsaritsa is by far the best-known: Catherine the Great, who was of Prussian descent; she was born Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst in 1729, and married Peter III in 1745. When he was overthrown in 1762, she was crowned tsaritsa; she ruled Russia until her death in 1796.

In 1763 she decided that only those composers were good enough for her court who were famous across Europe. One of them was Baldassare Galuppi, the famous master from Venice. He stayed in Russia until 1762. Other composers who for some time served the Russian court were Domenico Cimarosa and Vicente Martín y Soler. However, opera and music in general were much more a matter of representation than of real musical interest on Catherine's side. She was far more interested in French spoken theatre, and in the course of time, Italian opera lost its appeal to the Russian nobility.

Whereas opera in Russia during the second half of the 18th century has received some interest through CD recordings, far less is known about instrumental music. That makes the disc under review here a quite important one, as it presents music by three composers who were active in Russia at the time. Music definitely played a role in everyday life, just like anywhere else in Europe. Pavel Serbin, in his liner-notes, mentions that due to natural disasters, but also the negative attitude of the 19th century towards the Age of Enlightenment, a significant number of scores is poorly preserved or even lost. "In the case of the music composed in Moscow between 1770 and 1790, the question was raised as to whether it had ever existed. Thanks to meticulous research, some of this music was rediscovered".

It seems that foreign composers took the main positions in music life, just like in opera. Three of them are presented here. Two were from Germany and one from Austria.

Sebastian George was from Mainz, and arrived in Moscow around 1767; he also worked in St Petersburg. In 1780 an opera from his pen was performed there. Manuscripts of his works have been found in Kiev (Ukraine). The two pieces included here are identical in scoring, despite their different titles. Both are quintets for two transverse flutes, two violins and cello. They have independent parts, but there are also passages in which each or one of the two pairs move in parallels; there are also some dialogues between the two pairs of treble instruments. The cello largely takes the role of a harmonic foundation. Both are in three movements, and the last has the character of a Kehraus, which allows the performers to let their hair down. And that is what the performers here do. The closing presto from the Concertino in G is a perfect example.

Johann Joseph or Ivan Kerzelli was the son of Franz Xaver Körzl, who was from Vienna and settled in St Petersburg in 1762, where he took up the post of Kapellmeister to Count Razumovsky. His two sons, Johann Joseph and Franz, became composers and both were also active as teachers in the music school founded by their father, which was the first private music school in Russia. The ensemble selected two pieces from the Trios Op 1, which are scored for flute and violin or two violins with cello. They are in three movements, and in particular the slow movements are quite expressive, such as the adagio from the Trio in A minor. The closing movements are of a more light-hearted character. In the middle are pairs of minuets.

These pieces seem to have been intended for domestic music making among (good) amateurs. That is certainly not the case with the Duetto in D by Johann Heinrich Facius. He was born in Bonn and settled in Moscow in 1780, where he entered the service of the Sheremetev family, one of the wealthies of Russia. He was a cellist by profession, and regularly performed his own cello concertos. The first edition of his cello duets came from the press in Vienna in 1799. They are undoubtedly intended for professional players, as the duet included here proves. It is a brilliant and technically demanding piece, in which the two cellos are treated on equal footing. Apparently these cello duets are not available in a modern edition, which is a shame, as they are worthwhile additions to the cello repertoire.

As a kind of bonus the performers have included a movement from Haydn's symphony No. 63 in an anonymous arrangement for two flutes. Haydn's music was popular across Europe, and Russia was no exception. Both George and Kerzelli were promoters of his oeuvre. Arrangements as we get here were very common at the time, and music for the flute was in great demand, especially among amateurs.

All the pieces on this disc are quite interesting and musically captivating, and would well deserve to become available to chamber music ensembles. There qualities come perfectly off here. This seems to be the first disc of a new ensemble, which consists of experienced performers. Polina Gorshkova and Dorothee Kunst (flute), Martyna and Adam Pastuszka (violin) as well as Pavel Serbin and David Melkonyan (cello) are playing on a regular basis in the main early music orchestras of the world. They are virtuosos in their own right, but here they bring in their individual qualities to create a perfect ensemble. How nice that they are willing to explore unknown territory and bring treasures to light as those presented here. Let's hope more music hidden in Russian archives and libraries will be performed and recorded in the same engaging manner.

Johan van Veen

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