Allaturca Mauch ACD22347

Déjà Review: this review was first published in October 2007 and the recording is still available.

Alla Turca
Monika Mauch (soprano)
Ensemble Caprice
rec. 2005, Église Saint-Augustin de Mirabel, Québec, Canada
Atma Classique ACD22347 [71]

This CD celebrates the artistic patronage by Habsburg emperor Charles VI (1685-1740) of vocal and instrumental music at his court in Vienna. Passionately keen on Italian music in particular, Charles sponsored all sorts of musical enterprise and was himself a performer on the harpsichord and a conductor… of works by both Caldara and Fux. The latter’s magnum opus, ‘Gradus ad Parnassum’, Fux dedicated to Charles after he had studied counterpoint with Fux and indeed paid for the treatise’s publication in 1725. 

Turkey was a powerful geopolitical rival to the Habsburgs and that country’s army had besieged Vienna in 1683. Fux’ partita K. 331 was essentially a portrait of that siege and its happy outcome for the Viennese despite the damage to their city. It’s a suite of dances, part of a collection published almost 20 years later. Otherwise the connection to the demonised country is tenuous – except that this nicely sequenced collection as a whole (a generous hour and ten minutes’ worth interleaving works from all three represented composers) gives a clear sense of the kind of court music which was being listened to when the ‘Turkish threat’ was a local preoccupation.

Notable in the other works by Fux is the accentuated attention to the words in these sacred settings; that’s consistent with by then well-established Counter Reformation doctrines. Fux’ use of counterpoint is prominent – particularly in the Laetare turba and the two Alma redemptoris settings. Ensemble Caprice is highly effective at bringing out all of Fux’ instrumental colour in this and his other pieces here. Attention to minutiae is spectacular. There is a delicacy and lightness of touch, the plain adherence to which makes the most of his fragrant combinations, for example, of woodwind and strings.

Particular mention has to be made of – and plaudits offered to – Matthias Maute’s flute and recorder playing. Thick and richly-toned yet not breathy, sinuous but not shrill, forward while not laboured, his expressive underlining and leading of both tempo and melody add immeasurably to everything in which he features.

Equally deserving of praise are the consistency and flavourful tone of soprano Monika Mauch. Completely familiar with Fux’ and Badia’s comfort with and delight in the voice, their idioms and the subtle ways in which the components of their music work together, she possesses the gift of having us wait eagerly for each new verse, line and number. And being quietly thrilled.

Of all the Fux pieces here it’s perhaps the longest, the Sonata for flute, two violins and basso continuo, that reveals his exquisite liveliness of spirit and abilities with instrumentation to support melodic invention the best. Redolent in places of Corelli and in turns vigorous and plangent, this is a piece that can hardly fail to refresh and stimulate. Ensemble Caprice does it proud. Play it first if this repertoire is new to you or you have doubts about its profundity, characterful nature or sheer beauty.

Before working in Rome, where he met such illuminati as Alessandro Scarlatti, Corelli and Handel, Caldara held the appointments at Mantua then San Marco’s in Venice which Monteverdi had filled a century earlier. In 1716 he succeeded Fux at Vienna, where Charles esteemed him so highly that he paid him more than he had paid Fux. Caldara was a more prolific composer with over three thousand works to his credit including 90 operas and over 40 oratorios. As introductions to these he composed ‘sinfonie’; this was an emerging term without the precise meaning it later acquired – merely an instrumental appendage to an opera or choral work, for example. Caldara’s number 12 was for La passione di Gesù Signor Nostro from 1730 and is stylish enough to whet one’s appetite for the more substantial choral work; here are just five minutes with flutes and continuo.

Badia is likely to have been born in Venice; he was a contemporary of both Fux and Caldara. Although he worked at Vienna for over 40 years, he was favoured less by Charles than were either Fux or Caldara. Yet in fact he was more of an innovator making use of richly figured ritornelli and sinfonie into his choral works and introducing several aspects of the current Italian style to the Viennese court; these included a greater emphasis on the colour afforded by solo instruments in concerti; and indeed Badia introduced the concerto grosso itself to Vienna. He wrote nearly four dozen cantatas in the Roman (emphasising high solo voice with basso continuo) and Neapolitan (da capo arias, secco recitatives) styles. La Fenice is of the latter and exhibits a gentleness that’s most pleasing. This is a world premier recording, and worth the wait. Maute’s recorder is again a delight here.

The liner notes are informative, though have not been fully proofed… at one point they have Fux living for 141 years! The text of all the works is reproduced in Latin or Italian, French and English. The recording itself is clean, close and with an acoustic that never asks too much of the style of playing based on an urbane and happy composure characteristic of Ensemble Caprice.

Mark Sealey

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Presto Music

Johann Joseph Fux (1660-1741)
Partita “Turcaria”, K.331 [8:31]
Ave Regina, K.205 [4:33]
Sonata al Santo Sepolcro, K.376 [3:41]
Alma Redemptoris, K.185 [4:51]
Sonata for flute, two violins and basso continuo [10:52]
Laetare turba caelitum, E.80 [6:06]
Sonata da chiesa, E.320 [5:38]
Ave Regina, K.206 [3:05]
Alma redemptoris, K.187 [3:40]
Carlo Agostino Badia (1672-1738)
Cantata “La Fenice” [15:09] *
Antonio Caldara (1670-1736)
Sinfonia No.12 “La passione di Gesù Signor Nostro” (1730) [5:05]
* World premiere recording