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Mayr: Samuele / Brown, Bernhard, Trost, Hauk, Ingolstadt Georgian Chamber Orchestra

Mayr / Hauk / Brown / Bernhard / Trost
Release Date: 06/26/2012 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572721   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Giovanni Simone Mayr
Performer:  Andrea Lauren BrownRainer TrostSusanne BernhardJens Hamann
Conductor:  Franz Hauk
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Simon Mayr ChoirIngolstadt Georgian Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MAYR Samuele Franz Hauk, cond; Andrea Lauren Brown (sop); Susanne Bernhard (sop); Rainer Trost (ten); Jens Hamann (bs); Simon Mayr Ch; Ingolstadt Georgian C O NAXOS 8.572721-22 (2 CDs: 94:26)

Fanfare uses the symbol & in the headnote to indicate that a recording includes a text. The lack of that symbol indicates that no text is included. However, Naxos falls in the middle: text and translation are not included, but can be found (and downloaded) from their Read more website. It is a pain, and you wind up with an eleven page document on letterhead size paper, but at least you have access to the words. I appreciate immensely Naxos’s general high quality and low prices, but wish they would consider giving buyers of vocal discs the choice of a higher-price option with full texts and translations.

I wanted to get that out of the way at the beginning of this review because I do not wish to end on a sour note. Naxos, and conductor Franz Hauk, are the most significant champions that Johannes Simon Mayr (or Giovanni Simone Mayr) has in our day. You can find Fanfare reviews of many of their recordings (issues 32:4, 34:2, 33:2, and 27:1 are only four examples). What fascinated me as I read through those and other reviews in the Fanfare Archive was the almost uniformly positive reaction to Mayr’s music from every reviewer. I didn’t read them until I had heard Samuele once through and really enjoyed the experience. I wondered if I was alone in my admiration – and the answer turned out to be “not at all.”

Mayr was born in 1763 in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, but in his 20s he went to study in Italy and never left. His biggest claim to the fame granted him by history is that he was the principal teacher of Donizetti, who admired Mayr’s music greatly. But during Mayr’s lifetime, his sacred works and his operas (he wrote almost 70 of them!) were regularly performed. The operas, however, gave way to the enormous popularity of Rossini, who was 29 years his junior.

Mayr was also instrumental in giving the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven its first exposure in Italy. Naxos has done music lovers an important service by recording so much of his music, and recording it in persuasive and accomplished performances. This disc is a winner. The music of Samuele sounds at times like some of the masonic music in Mozart’s Magic Flute . At its most inspired, it is music that might have come from the pen of Mozart. Mayr does not sustain that level of inspiration from beginning to end, and I do not claim that this is an “undiscovered Mozart.” But I believe that anyone with a more than casual interest in the music of this era should become familiar with his works, and is very likely to enjoy them. His musical vocabulary is clearly influenced by the Austro-German composers whom he championed—Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven—but as seen through an Italian lens. The choral writing in particular sounds Germanic, but the solo arias in this oratorio often recall Rossini in their long-spun lines and occasional ornamentation. The Chorus “Ah qual fragor! Qual tremito!” (Oh What a sound! What trembling!) is from a storm scene that could easily pass for the work of Rossini. (The notes tell us that this Chorus was actually borrowed by Mayr from his earlier opera Fedra , where it had exactly the same text as it has here.) Mayr’s use of speech accompanied by music, or speech alternating with music, is both original and effective. The little “melodrama” in the middle of the second part of the oratorio is both ahead of its time and a dramatic coup.

Samuele was composed for the 1821 inauguration of the new bishop Pietro Mola in Bergamo. The role of Samuel is given to a soprano, presumably to emphasize his youth. Samuel doesn’t even appear in the first part of the oratorio, which concentrates on Hannah (the second of the wives of Elkanah) and her prayers for a child. The role of Hannah is beautifully sung by the German lyric soprano Susanne Bernhard. Her tone is sweet, her technique secure, and she phrases and shapes with purpose. Rainer Trost, as her husband, has a lesser role but sings it appealingly. Samuele’s longer second part introduces us to Samuel, and tells of his calling as a prophet. American Andrea Lauren Brown sings beautifully. In Samuel’s duet with the priest Eli, “Che tento!” her floated pianos are exquisite, and her singing of the prayer “Dio, che immortal, benefico” is one of the highlights of the set. The one weak member of the cast is bass Jens Hamann as Eli. He has the agility for the music, but his voice is generic, and often tremulous or whiny with a timbre that lacks any juice or richness.

Franz Hauk must be the world’s leading Mayr expert, certainly among performers. Search for him at ArkivMusic and you will find nine recordings of music by Mayr. Even the Mozart he has recorded is coupled with Mayr. Fortunately for us, Hauk is clearly a gifted conductor who knows how to communicate his understanding of this music to his choral and orchestral forces. The chorus sings well, though without the rich blend that one would find in the world’s great choral groups, and the Ingolstadt Georgian Chamber Orchestra plays with energy and intensity.

Naxos provides fine notes, by the way, including a brief commentary on the score by conductor Hauk, who highlights the musical borrowings in Samuele from Mayr’s other works. (No wonder he was able to write 68 operas and over 600 religious works: he kept re-using material!) The recorded sound is well balanced and has a good, middle of the balcony, perspective for the listener. Enthusiastically recommended.

FANFARE: Henry Fogel
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Works on This Recording

Samuele by Giovanni Simone Mayr
Performer:  Andrea Lauren Brown (Soprano), Rainer Trost (Tenor), Susanne Bernhard (Soprano),
Jens Hamann (Bass)
Conductor:  Franz Hauk
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Simon Mayr Choir,  Ingolstadt Georgian Chamber Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1821; Italy 

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