Naxos are continuing their valuable series of Simon
Mayr’s works, and there is indeed a lot to choose from, since
he was an uncommonly prolific composer.
This is the fourth set that has come my way - see reviews of Samuele
in the cave of Engedi
- but he wrote almost seventy operas in thirty years and about six hundred
sacred works. The present work is textually based on Judges 11, 29-40
in the Bible and this story has attracted several composers. Best known
is no doubt Handel’s oratorio from 1751, but there is also an
opera by Meyerbeer and an oratorio by Carissimi. Handel’s Jephtha
was to be his last oratorio, since his eye sight was rapidly deteriorating.
Mayr on the other hand was in his early thirties when he composed hisIl
sagrifizio di Jefte
and was to live another fifty years. It would
be unfair to compare the two works, since Handel’s Jephtha
in spite of the composer’s failing eyesight and other infirmities,
is one of the great masterpieces in Western music. Mayr’s work
is on a more modest scale but still interesting and worth anyone’s
Though almost contemporaneous with Mozart and an eager champion for
Beethoven’s works in Italy it is rather the earliest of the Vienna
Classicists, Joseph Haydn, who is Mayr’s musical influence. The
short sinfonia is colourful with a lot of wind solos and throughout
there is plenty of interesting orchestral detail. The choral writing
is efficient and engaging, not always truly memorable, but the chorus
O belle vergine
(CD 2 tr. 17) is really beautiful. The recitatives
- and there is a lot of them - are expressive and sometimes adorned
with embellishments. Generally the drama unfolds without many longueurs
and the 111 minutes pass rapidly. That interest hardly ever wavers is
a tribute to the quality of the music and
the standard of execution.
The chorus and orchestra are well drilled under Franz Hauk, the mastermind
behind the project and an enthusiast who burns for this music.
He has gathered four outstanding young soloists for the important arias
and ensembles. The Armenian soprano Hrachuhí Bassénz,
who sings the title role, has an excellent voice with dramatic potential.
Hearing her in the aria Squarciami il seno
(CD 1 tr. 13) I can
imagine that she must be a very fine Leonora in Il trovatore
, two of the roles she has been
singing recently. Her recitative and aria Ecco l’istante ...
Se a morte mi condanna
(CD 2 trs. 6-7) only confirms her greatness.
Jefte’s daughter Seila is sung by mezzo-soprano Stefanie Irányi,
who also seems destined to make headlines. Hers is a grand voice, and
it came as no surprise to read that she is now taking on Wagnerian roles.
Listen to Deh palesa al genitore
(CD 1 tr. 16) to see what I
mean. In the second part of the oratorio she has the longest aria in
the work, In te solo eterno amore
, impressive and beautiful.
Abnero is a prince who is Seila’s betrothed, and he is sung by
tenor Robert Sellier. He has a fine flexible voice with sturdy technique.
Not surprisingly his repertoire list contains several Mozart roles,
Belmonte, Ferrando and Tamino, for instance. Judging from his singing
of the aria Col tuo bel nome in petto
(CD 1 tr. 6) he must be
excellent in those Mozart roles as well, and this is confirmed by his
second part aria Pria con un ferro il seno
(CD 2 tr. 3). One
of the finest numbers in the work is the terzetto Qual di morte nero
(CD 2 tr. 15) with the singers hitherto mentioned.
The fourth soloist is by no means an also-ran. Jochen Kupfer has an
important international career both in opera houses and on concert stages.
He is an outstanding Lieder singer and can be found on numerous recital
discs. As the High Priest Jaddo he has several attractive numbers. He
doesn’t appear until the end of part I but there he sings eloquently
in the aria Guarda, rifletti e trema
(CD 1 tr. 19). He distantly
reminds me of Hermann Prey but with a more evenly produced voice. In
the second part he has a beautiful but short arioso,O Popol mio guardati
(CD 2 tr. 9), but his real tour de force
comes a little later
in the Già la morte sua falce rotando
(CD 2 tr. 12). This
is a dramatic aria with a lot of coloratura and here he is masterly.
Distinguished singing of the highest order.
I hope Naxos will continue this interesting and very attractive series,
which already has made Simon Mayr emerge from the shadows as a thrilling
contemporary of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven but with a personality of
his own. This latest issue is worth the attention of all inquisitive
music-lovers, and most of all it should attract lovers of excellent