Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin, Oboe, and Cello Concerto in D. Flute and Oboe Concerto in C. Symphony in D,
Budapest Strings; Béla Bánfalvi (vn); Lajos Lencsés (ob); Károly Botvay (vc); János Bálint (fl)
CAPRICCIO 5087 (53:40)
The greater slander in Peter Shaffer’s
was not that Antonio Salieri murdered Mozart, a hoary allegation that has been thoroughly discredited. Instead it
is the insinuation that Salieri was a hack—much harder to counteract since most of his legacy is effectively inaccessible. Salieri, a protégé of Gluck, was primarily an opera composer. He achieved great success in both Paris and Vienna, where he became the most prominent figure in that city’s flourishing musical establishment. But his traditional style went out of favor, and he lost interest in the opera, ironically about the time of Mozart’s death. His operas dropped out of the repertory, and he composed little during the last two decades of his life. Nevertheless, he was still held in high esteem by his contemporaries. A short list of younger composers who chose to study with Salieri is instructive: it includes Beethoven, Hummel, Schubert, and Liszt.
Salieri’s operas are unlikely to be revived, so his reputation now hangs on a slender collection of orchestral works—according to Capriccio’s notes, just five concertos and two symphonies, the latter actually Italian-style, three-movement opera overtures. “La Veneziana” derives its name from its place of first publication, Venice, not from its buffa opera,
La scuola de’ gelosi
. It is appropriately lighthearted and tuneful. (Mozart’s Symphony No. 32 is thought to have been intended as an overture for his opera
, but Mozart’s concept of the symphony outgrew its origins.) On the basis of the symphony and the two concertos in this disc, Salieri’s orchestral style did not stray far from its operatic roots. His multiple soloists interact lyrically with one another much like characters on a stage, with dialogue trumping development as an organizing principle. Shaffer was right in one respect: Salieri was not Mozart. But he was a talented and accomplished composer. Shaffer may have latched onto another truth: Perhaps only a great talent can fully appreciate a true genius.
Spirited performances by the Budapest Strings, with a major assist from the always estimable Lajos Lencsés, make a strong case for Salieri’s music. Lencsés teams with concertmaster Béla Bánfalvi and cellist Károly Botvay, the group’s artistic director, in the triple concerto and makes beautiful music with flutist János Bálint in the flute and oboe concerto. It all adds up to a most enjoyable disc.
The double concerto, possibly Salieri’s best-known work, has been recorded by Aurèle Nicolet and Heinz Holliger with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields on a Philips disc with double concertos by Domenico Cimarosa and Karl Stamitz. Both versions are excellent, and choosing between them will depend on your preference for discmates. Incidentally, a 20-year-old Marco Polo recording conducted by Michael Dittrich has 12 of Salieri’s one-movement opera overtures. If you are curious, you might try to find a copy. Meanwhile, this new Capriccio disc is well worth hearing.
FANFARE: George Chien
Cast as the villain in the film Amadeus, the real Salieri was actually on much friendlier terms with Mozart. Their rivalry, within the greater context of Italian musicians favored over local Austrians by the court, was only over commissions and teaching appointments. Italians in Vienna held more prestige, especially in opera. Nevertheless, Salieri conducted Mozart works and as times and styles changed, gave music lessons to Beethoven, Hummel, Schubert and Liszt among many others.
This album, featuring the Budapest Strings (with woodwinds and horns when specified by the composer,) offers a fine selection of Salieri's lighthearted, tuneful and well-crafted instrumental works.
Greg La Traille,
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Flute and Oboe in C major by Antonio Salieri
János Bálint (Flute),
Lajos Lencsés (Oboe)
Written: by 1774; Vienna, Austria
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