Notes and Editorial Reviews
Berenice, che fai. Miseri noi, misera patria.
Violin Concerto No. 4. Symphony No. 92,
Hans-Martin Linde, cond; Ferdinand Leitner, cond;
Marilyn Schmiege (mez); Ingrid Seifert (vn); Cappella Coloniensis (period instruments)
PHOENIX EDITION 176 (68:37
This new edition of re-releases by the Cappella
Coloniensis orchestra under various conductors, recording in the late 1980s, is indeed a welcome reintroduction to a splendid historically informed orchestra that had an enormous impact on the musical scene in Germany. Relistening to them will show that they were much closer in tone and balance to the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields than to Harnoncourt’s gritty-sounding Concentus Musicus Wien or Hogwood’s Academy of Ancient Music. Individual tastes may vary, of course, but I generally prefer and enjoy this kind of sound. Of course, their early years
scrappy sounding, as recordings from the 1950s will attest, but by the time of these discs they had evolved into an ensemble as highly polished as Roger Norrington’s London Classical Players.
The orchestra is happily joined in the cantatas by the splendid mezzo Marilyn Schmiege, whose voice is somewhat astringent and not always beautiful but whose style exemplifies the true art of 18th-century
She is lyrical, pensive, biting, sarcastic, and dramatic by turn, all conveyed by the varied coloration of her voice and her piquant use of rhythm. Listen to the way she sings her florid passages, for example: not for her the smooth, evenly produced tones of most Baroque sopranos, but a rhythmically accented way of “pouncing” on the notes like a cat worrying its prey. She creates tension and release in an almost magical unraveling of phrases, where the musical and dramatic progression of the cantatas is spooled out like a bolt of velvet cloth interlaced with steel wool. My gold standard in the second cantata has long been the phenomenal 1961 recording by soprano Bethany Beardslee with the Musica Viva Ensemble conducted by James Bolle (Monitor LP 2124). Schmiege not only equals Beardslee, but surpasses her by virtue of even more varied coloration (Schmiege’s low range is a thing of beauty) and an even tauter performance (9:44 compared to Beardslee’s 11:12).
I had some reservations about the performance of the Violin Concerto No. 4. Although Ingrid Seifert is evidently an outstanding violinist with a flawless technique and superb bow control, I personally dislike the completely vibratoless style in a soloist, and don’t think it is entirely authentic. What is the point of having a soloist whose sound is just another color in the orchestra, who doesn’t stand out, who doesn’t provide the contrast that a concerto soloist is supposed to have? If Haydn’s intention was to write a
I’m sure he’d have marked it as such. A concerto is a different animal. I am more and more convinced that solo string-players of the 18th century were closer in sound and musical concept to Bronislaw Huberman, who alternated a vibratoless tone with passages in which vibrato was used as an expressive device, much like the singing style of that era as described by Pier Francesco Tosi. In this work, I prefer the kind of performance given by Simon Standage on Archiv 427316.
It’s a shame that many music-lovers nowadays have rather forgotten Ferdinand Leitner, one of those bold pioneers like Møgens Wöldike, Karl Ristenpart, Thurston Dart, and Helmuth Rilling—all different ages but all active in the 1950s—upon whose stubborn, individualistic shoulders our entire historically informed performance practice is based. Curiously, in fact, Leitner’s interpretation of the “Oxford” Symphony is more modern in concept than the recorded performances of Dorati or Fischer. It could not really be called a featureless performance, it certainly has drama and excellent dynamic contrasts, but it is certainly straightforward. I enjoyed it very much on its own terms.
As is true of other releases in this series, a whole page is dedicated to photo and bio of photographer Nancy Horowitz, whose work adorns the booklet covers of each issue in this series. She’s a good photographer, no doubt, but a whole page? While mezzo Schmiege and violinist Seifert get not a word? (A biography of Schmiege can be found at www.gesang-muenchen.de/1-gesang-oper/3-biographie-engl.html.) No wonder classical music has little audience outside of the rich and powerful nowadays. We’re not inviting auditors to learn about the interpreters of the music but merely to admire its packaging. Good luck with that. Highly recommended nonetheless.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Berenice, che fai, H 24a no 10 by Franz Joseph Haydn
Marilyn Schmiege (Mezzo Soprano)
Written: 1795; London, England
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