Wednesday, 25 March 2015

I musicisti dell'imperatore - Music from the reign of Charles VI of Austria

Music from the reign of Charles VI of Austria
Piani, Caldara, Scarlatti, Vivaldi; Raffaella Milanesi, G.A.P. Ensemble; Pan Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 17 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Viennese Imperial court style in 18th century music written for Emperor Charles

In the 18th century the Hapsburg Emperors in Vienna ruled a huge empire, which stretched as far south as Italy. From the 17th century the Vienna Court Orchestra was predominantly Italian, and in the early 18th century a sequence of Emperors were notably music loving. So that under these, particularly the last of the sequence Charles VI (reigned 1711 to 1740) music at the Viennese court reached its heydey. But 1736 saw the death of Antonio Caldara (Charles' favourite composer), in 1741 the death of Johann Joseph Fux (the Imperial Kapellmeister) and in 1740 the death of Charles himself, to be replaced by his daughter Maria Theresa (reigned 1740 to 1780) who considered the political benefits of the court orchestra to be slight, and vastly limited the amount of music at court.

This disc, on Pan Classics, from soprano Raffaella Milanesi and G.A.P. Ensemble (Emilio Percan, violin, Oriol Aymat Fuste, violoncello, and Luca Quintavalle, harpsichord) presents a selection of music which written for Charles, though so much was written they could probably have assembled dozens of discs without much overlap. There are three cantatas for soprano, each with an obbligato violin part. Risoluto on gia tiranno amore by Antonio Caldara, who worked for Charles, and two cantatas by composers who worked for his viceroys but tried to get his attention. Alessandro Scarlatti's Appena chiudo gli occhi and Antonio Vivaldi's Lungi dal vago volto, RV 680.

Antonio Caldara (1670 - 1736) was born in Venice and became one of the major composers of the early 18th century. He was at some pains to acquire a position with the Hapsburgs. From 1703 to 1711 he was in Barcelona at the court of Hapsburg claimant to the Spanish throne (in the War of the Spanish Succession), this happened to be Archduke Charles who became Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna in 1711 and Caldara finally acquired a position in Vienna in 1716, and became Charles's favourite composer. In addition to his operas for the court, he wrote several hundred secular cantatas and here Raffaella Milanesi performs one of them, Risoluto on gia tiranno amore with obbligato violin. This is in the standard format of two arias separated by recitatives, but with extended ritornelli for the violin.

Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) was the chapel master of the Cappella Reale in Naples, where from 1708 there was an Austrian viceroy (replacing the Spanish Hapsburgs). Scarlatti wrote music for special occasions such as Charles's name day as well as 800 secular cantatas. Here we have Appena chiud gli occhi again, two arias connected by recitatives but with a sinfonia at the beginning.

Whilst Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) is forever associated with Venice, he did spend the years 1718 to 1720 as the maestro di cappella da camera at the Viceroy's court in Mantua. He would also dedicate his collection La Cetra to Charles, and travelled to Trieste to meet the emperor and give him a copy; the meeting was evidently a success and Charles unusually chatty but no job came of it. Vivaldi would travel to Vienna in 1740 but he died a pauper there, his quest for a post not helped by Charles's death. Vivaldi's cantata Lungi dal vago volto, again with obbligato violin, was probably written whilst he was in Mantua.

In between these the instrumentalists perform a set of sonatas by Giovanni Antonio Piani (1672-1760) who was active as a musician in the Imperial Court Orchestra for some 40 years. Having trained in his native Naples he became one of the most sought after virtuosi of all time. His violin sonatas are all in four movement, slow, fast, slow fast, form and make for elegant civilised music with Emilio Percan's violin providing elegant singing tone, and a nice bounce in the faster numbers.

Antonio Caldara's music is being re-discovered, his La Concordia dei'Pianeti was recorded last year (see my review) and was written for Charles's coronation as King of Bohemia. His cantata Risoluto son gia tiranno amore proves to be a pair of lively arias, sung with bravura emotion by Milanesi, plus some dramatic recitative. Milanesi has a vibrant voice, and sings with some style though her expressive vibrato sometimes rather gets in the way in faster passages.

Scarlatti's cantata Appena chiudo gli occhi opens with a graceful instrumental sinfonia, and the violin also contributes to the ensuing recitative (certainly not a common occurrence). The subsequent aria, Dolce sonno is the longest movement at over seven minutes, it is a slow poignant piece with a long wandering vocal line and expressive violin. The final aria is shorter and considerably perkier, but again is not musically obvious.

Vivaldi's Lungi dal vago volto starts with a recitative which sees Milanesi perhaps a trifle wild, but very dramatic. The long first aria (over 10 minutes) Augeletti is low and lovely, with such a substantial violin part that the piece is effectively a duet and both Milanesi and Percan combine in an expressive manner. But slow does not mean simple, and both lines include expressive fioriture too. The concluding aria, Mi stringerai, is far shorter and makes a perky conclusion with the violin given lots of double stopping.

The CD booklet provides a highly informative article in English, but be warned the aria texts are only in Italian.

This is a fascinating disc. Not, perhaps, great music but music which is currently rather undervalued and certainly the cantatas on the disc are anything but run of the mill and their historical background provides intriguing links.

Giovanni Antonio Piani (1678-1760) - Sonata in G minor, Op.1, no.1
Antonio Caldara (1670-1736) - Cantata Risouto son gia tiranno amore
Giovanni Antonio Piani (1678-1760) - Sonata in F minor, Op.1, no.3
Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) - Cantata Appena chiudo gli occhi
Giovanni Antonio Piani (1678-1760) - Sonata in A minor, Op. 1, no.9
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) - Cantata Lungi dal vago volto RV680
Raffaella Milanesi (soprano)
G.A.P. Ensemble (Emilio Percan - violin, Oriol Aymat Fuste - violoncello, Luca Quintavalle - harpsichord)
Recorded 27-28 February, 1 & 4 March 2014, Erholungshaus der Bayer AG Leverkusen, Germany
PAN CLASSICS PC 10324  1CD [74.10]
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