REVIEW






GOLDBERG
REPERTOIRE 149 / 09.2001
DIAPASON 120 / 09.2001
GRAMOPHONE / 02.2002
MUSICA DEI DONUM / 2009
THE STRAD / February 2002

 

GOLDBERG

GEORG MUFFAT
Gunar Letzbor
Ars Antiqua Austria

Symphonia SY 00183
2000 - 66:35 min

Georg Muffat (1653-1704) after studying as a youngster with Lully in Paris, was involved most of his life with the Catholic Church. He worked as cathedral organist in Alsace, moved to Bavaria as a law student, and then settled for a time in Vienna. Following employment as organist to the Archbishop of Salzburg, interrupted by a period of study in Rome with the renowned keyboard player, Bernardo Pasquini, he took a final position as organist to the Bishop of Passau. Among his compositions is the Armonico Tributo of 1682, five multi-movement, five-voice sonatas which Muffat left open as to various instrumental possibilities, even including performance as concerti grossi. One easily hears the influence of Corelli, whom Muffat met while in Rome, but there are also moments when one surmises that Handel knew these scores well. The music, perfectly gorgeous in this smaller instrumental version, mixes the French and Italian styles, as well as chamber-sonata and sonata da chiesa movements. Can one find a more hauntingly beautiful piece than the final Passacaglia from Sonata No. 5? This was a movement also recorded by London Baroque and Musica Antiqua Köln (the complete Armonico Tributo is also available played by the Parley of Instruments on Hyperion and Ensemble 415 on harmonia mundi). Of the seven-member Ars Antiqua Austria (about whom nothing, unfortunately, is provided as to biographical details), one can only bestow the greatest praise for such wonderfully stylish performances, superb ensemble, a welcome lack of mannerisms, and faultless recorded sound. IGOR KIPNIS

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REPERTOIRE N 149
SEPTEMBRE 2001

Georg MUFFAT (1653-1704)
ARMONICO TRIBUTO (1682).
Ars Antiqua Austria, dir. Gunar Letzbor.
Symphonia SY 00181
(Abeille Musique). 2000.
         

Lorsque rentrant de Rome pour participer aux grandioses festivités de la célé-bration du 1100e anniversaire de la fondation de l'archevêché de Salzbourg, Muffat dédie à Maximilien Gandolph von Khuenburg les cinq sonates de l'Armonico Tributo, il se pose en ambassadeur d'un style totalement nouveau dans les pays germaniques. Inspirées par Corelli, ces pièces magnifiques, dans lesquelles le compositeur assimile le style italien et le principe du concerto grosso tout en les intégrant à des formes très travaillées, ont déjà fait l'objet d'une version exceptionnelle sous la direction de Chiara Banchini, Enrico Gatti et Jesper Christensen (Harmonia Mundi, 10 de Répertoire).
L'approche de Letzbor et d'Ars Antiqua Austria est très différen-te: alors que Banchini et ses collègues avaient reconstitué un dispositif orchestral calqué sur celui de Corelli à Rome, les Autrichiens optent pour une version à un par partie, tout aussi légitime. Privés des effets orchestraux. les interprètes se retrouvent avec une tâche difficile car le recueil ne se réduit pas à une simple rencontre entre le style italien et la manière germanique : Muffat avait approché Lùlly dans sa jeunesse, et l'influence du goût français se fait également souvent sentir.
C'est là qu'il faut chercher le principal apport de cette version : on y sent encore les fruits de l'excellent travail que le groupe avait mené il y a deux ans sur le Florilegium Primum à partir des préfaces du compositeur (10 de Répertoire). Ainsi, là où l'on pouvait attendre une extraversion débridée et de fortes oppositions dynamiques, on est confronté à une vision épurée, au lyrisme contrôlé mais généreux, avec une attention extrême au phrasé, aux timbres, à l'articulation et à l'ornementation. Ce que l'on perd en effets séduisants, on le gagne en intensité. Chaque sonate forme une entité spécifique, au sein de laquelle les différents caractères contrastes sont abordés avec le souci de l'architecture globale de la pièce.
A l'exception de quelques danses (Gavotte de la Sonate III, Menuet de la Sonate IV), les interprètes délaissent tes effets orchestraux (toujours gérabtes dans cet effectif si l'on accentue les nuances aux endroits prévus). Loin d'appauvrir l'expressivité, ce choix permet de retrouver l'essence d'une écriture que les contrastes tutti-soli, pour spectaculaires qu'ils soient, ont tendance à niveler. Les sections lentes prennent ainsi une nouvelle dimension, à l'image de la dépression du second Grave de la première Sonate (plage 4) ou du début de la Sonata II, lente construction harmonique parmi les plus belles du répertoire et dans laquelle la sincérité du groupe fait merveille (plage 8). Letzbor et ses complices ne perdent pas non plus leur mordant comme dans l'Allegro e presto de la Sonata I, dans la longue Passacaglia de la Sonata V ou dans les danses, dont l'ornementation n'est pas réservée au premier dessus mais met en évidence un travail collectif trop peu fréquent dans les productions actuelles (Allemande de la dernière sonate).
A mille lieues des prouesses superficielles de certains ensembles de la même génération, cette interprétation, qui peut paraître d'un abord un peu raide lorsqu'on a la version orchestrale dans l'oreille, s'enrichit au fil des écoutes et offre une vision cohérente d'un recueil unique et trop peu joué.
Le plus passionnant est sans doute que de nombreuses voies restent ouvertes, à commencer par une optique, plus solistique : même en occultant Corelli, dont on connut l'invention dans les mouvements lents, on voit mal comment Muffat aurait pu convaincre ses collègues violonistes salzbourgeois, au premier rang desquels figurait le redoutable Biber, déjà vicemaître de chapelle, de jouer certains mouvements lents sans les orner!
Pierre Pascal

NOUVEAUTÉ € € € € . Excellente prise de son, fine et naturelle, qui met en valeur la précision du jeu des interprètes sans occulter la résonance des instruments. .

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120 / DIAPASON septembre 2001    

GEORG MUFFAT 1653-1704
Armomco Tributo, 1682.
Ars Antiqua Austria, Gunar Letzbor.
Symphonia SY 00183, distr. Abeille Musique (CD : 169 F). 2000.
TT : 1 h 06'35". Notice en cinq langues.
…………………………………………………………
TECHNIQUE: 5/10 DDD
Image stéréo : 4. Définition : 4. Timbres : 5. Dynamique : 7.

Edité en 1682 en l'honneur du prince-archevêque de Salzbourg, l’Armonico tributo porte en sous-titre «Sonates de chambre pour peu ou beaucoup d'instruments». Dix-neuf ans plus tard, Muffat proposait lui-même une version, sensiblement remaniée, pour orchestre, calquée sur l’Opus 6 de Corelli, enregistrée par l'Ensemble 415 en formation très étoffée sous la férule de Chiara Banchini et Jesper Christensen (Harmonia Mundi, cf. Diapason n 427). Mais la mouture originelle peut être aussi traitée de manière solistisante (Thé Parley of Instruments le fit jadis chez Hyperion) ou en petit orchestre de chambre (à six violons) ce qui a été joliment réalisé par Andrew Manze et la Stravaganza Köln (MDG, cf. Diapason n° 399). Gunar Letzbor revient sur cet ouvrage essentiel dans l'histoire des «goûts réunis » à l'ère baroque (le Savoyard Muffat étudia avec Luily, travailla à Salzbourg et s'inspira du style italien, faisant la synthèse des trois écoles) en optant pour une lecture à deux violons, deux altos et continuo. Et il le fait avec son habituel goût des contrastes, des couleurs vives, des rythmes trépidants, des relances abruptes qui rend encore plus triste et timide le disque du Parley of Instruments, lequel s'appliquait surtout à aplanir les angles de cette musique tourmentée. L'équipe d'Ars Antiqua Austria n'a pas son pareil pour exprimer toute la tension et la nervosité de ces petites cellules mélodiques et rythmiques qui, de danses en airs, expriment une invention préfigurant de plusieurs décennies, comme Biber, le Sturm und Drang. La comparaison avec la gravure de Manze est un peu faussée puisque celui-ci agit en formation orchestrale, mais si la créativité et l'audace des deux violonistes ne sont pas éloignées, Letzbor et ses instrumentistes dessinent avec plus d'acuité et d'évidence les rythmes à la française de plusieurs mouvements là où les musiciens de Cologne estompaient, parfois avec excès, les contours rigoureux de la mesure. De fait, les Autrichiens se placent délibérément dans une filiation lul-liste, les cinq sonates n'étant pas si éloignées de la suite versaillaise (la petite sonata initiale renvoyant à l'ouverture de type lulliste suivie de danses de cour). En ce sens, leur approche me semble plus juste musicalement et historiquement que les extravagances, au demeurant estimables, de Manze. A quoi s'ajoute une ivresse sonore et rythmique qui rend ce disque formidablement stimulant.
• JEAN-LUC MAC

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GRAMOPHONE february 2002

Muffat,Armonico tributo Ars Antiqua Austria / Gunar Letzbor vn Symphonia SY00183 (67 minutes: DDD)
Winning performances in a competitive field
Selected comparisons:
Ensemble 415 (9/96R) (HARM) HMA1901581
The Parley of instruments(10/82R) (HYPE) CDA66032

In the last Sonata, the longest of the five, the opening Allemanda is given the unusual marking Grave: both Ars Antiqua Austria and Ensemble 415 play it accordingly. The difference lies mainly in the density of sound; AAA uses five strings. E415. 29. Both are authentic: Muffat wrote 'for few or many instruments'. The Parley of Instruments have six but their pace is Andante.
E415's weight of tone allows the tutti, or 'T' sections and the solo or 'S' sections for two vio-lins and cello to be clearly differentiated. But Harmonia Mundi's narrow image is a disadvantage. No such problem with AAA, who are also musicians of high calibre. If 'T' and 'S' are not as clear-cut in their hands, they nevertheless know the nature of these pieces. The dance element predominates and is keenly sensed, as in the Gavotta of No 1, which has a frolicsome quality rivals don't quire capture.
The incisive style of The Parley works against some of the slow sections, like the first movement of No 3 where there isn't enough contrast in attack between the introductory Grave and the following Allegro. AAA make this distinction but go astray in the non-danceable first and third movements of No 4, where a harpsichord stultifies rhythm by overemphasising first beats. It's the only lapse in otherwise considerate continuo realisations. Choosing between the two is difficult (both well recorded, though levels are high) but overall, AAA have the edge.
Nalen Anthonl

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musica Dei donum


Georg MUFFAT (1653 - 1704): Armonico Tributo, 1682

Ars Antiqua Austria
Dir: Gunar Letzbor
Symphonia - SY 00183 (© 2001) (66'35")

Sonata I in D; Sonata II in g minor; Sonata III in A; Sonata IV in e minor; Sonata V in G

Gunar Letzbor, Ilia Korol, violin; Peter Aigner, Susanna Haslinger, viola; Claire Pottinger-Schmidt, viola da gamba, cello; Luciano Contini, archlute; Norbert Zeilberger, harpsichord, organ

Georg Muffat was a 'multicultural' composer in several ways. Firstly, he was born in Savoye in France, where is family - which was of Scottish origin - had settled in the early 17th century. He studied in Paris under Lully, was appointed organist at Strasbourg Cathedral - which was then in exile in Molsheim -, continued his studies in Rome with the famous organist Bernardo Pasquini, where he also met Corelli, and worked at courts in Salzburg, Vienna and Passau. Although he considered himself a German composer he was one of the earliest advocates of the goûts réunis, a mingling of the French and the Italian style, and he also wanted to introduce these styles in Germany. His educational purposes are reflected in his collections of music, which not only show a mixture of Italian and French elements, but were also preceded by prefaces in German, French, Italian and Latin. And his aims reached further than just bringing the musical styles in Europe closer to each other: "My profession is very far from the tumult of arms and from the reasons of state that cause them to be taken up. I occupy myself with notes, with words and with sounds. I exercise myself in the study of a sweet symphony: when I mingle French airs with those of the Germans and the Italians, it is not in order to incite a war, but it is rather, perhaps, a prelude to the harmony of so many notions and to amiable peace."

The compositions which were first published under the title Armonico Tributo in 1682 were later revised and printed again, in 1701. That same year these works were published also in the Auserlesene Instrumental-Music in a more thorough reworking. This is evidence enough of the importance of these pieces in the perception of their composer. They reflect the influences of Lully in that they are written in five parts, which was common in France. But the core of these pieces is the combination of two violins and bass - the model of the Italian trio sonata. In his preface Muffat underlines the many possibilities in regard to scoring and the number of instruments involved. They could be performed with three, four or five instruments, but also with a large orchestra, split into a concertino and a ripieno, just like Arcangelo Corelli's Concerti grossi op. 8. While studying with Pasquini in Rome he had the opportunity to hear Corelli direct his own Concerti grossi as well as playing with him. He was deeply impressed: "I first conceived the idea of this ingenious mixture while I was in Rome, where I studied the Italian manner on the organ and the harpsichord under the world-famous Sign.r Bernardo Pasquini; I heard with the greatest delight and admiration several most beautiful concertos [Suonate] by Sign.r Archangelo Corelli, the Orpheus of Italy on the violin, played with the greatest accuracy by a large number of musicians."

In this recording the concertos or sonatas are performed with five instruments: two violins, two violas and bc. One aspect of Corelli's performances which Muffat paid attention to in his preface is the contrast in dynamics and tempo. "At the word piano, or the letter p., which means the same thing, everyone must uniformly play so softly and with such precision that they can hardly be heard; and at the forte, or f., everyone must be inspired by so great a force and vehemence from the first note thus marked that the listeners be astonished at so great a noise (...) And it is the exact observance of this opposition of slowness and of speed, of power and of sweetness and of the ampleness of the full orchestra and the delicacy of the simple Trio that ravishes the ear, inciting it to admiration, as is the eye by the the contrast of shadow and light."

It is in these two aspects that I am not fully satisfied with this recording. There are two ways to create a contrast in dynamics: by the alternation of concertino and ripieno or the alternation of piano and forte. The first is no option in a performance with one instrument per part, and the second isn't fully realised here. The players never play "so softly ... that they can hardly be heard". The choice of tempi is also up to some debate. There is historical evidence that Corelli himself performed his Concerti grossi with large contrasts in tempo, and it is reasonable to assume that Muffat was also influenced by this aspect of Corelli's performances. In this recording sometimes the fast movements are a little too slow and the slow movements a bit too fast.

The Italian style - in particularly present in the slower movements - is better realised than the French aspect of these sonatas, which are reflected especially in the dance movements. But this recording doesn't fail to show the impressive qualities of Muffat's music. These sonatas are unconventional in their structure: Muffat doesn't hesitate to put three slow movements in succession: grave, sarabande grave, grave (Sonata II). And Sonata V in fact doesn't contain a single fast movement. Some grave movements are very expressive thanks to bold harmonic progressions. The 'aria' of Sonata II has a wonderful theme moving over a walking bass. The collection ends with a magnificent passacaglia, which takes almost half of the time the whole sonata lasts.

I am not aware of any other recording of these sonatas with one instrument per part. That, and the fact that this interpretation has enough to offer to convince any listener of the brilliance of these works, make me recommend this disc. It is a shame the presentation leaves much to be desired. Even the date and place of the recording isn't mentioned. For those who would like to hear a recording with a larger ensemble I recommend the one by Chiara Banchini's Ensemble 415 (Harmonia mundi).

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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The Strad February 2002

Muffat Armonico Tributo
Ars Antiqua Austria, Gunar Letzbor (director) SYMPHONIA SY00183

This splendidly executed release of five sonatas for strings and continue from 1682 by Georg Muffat poses a dilemma: is it worthwhile to purchase a CD of limited musical interest in terms of repertoire in order to enjoy the high level of performance? The five sonatas taken from Muffat's Armonico Tributo are early examples of the concerto grosso which reflect Corelli’s unmistakable influence in construction, instrumentation and style. Yet, judging from the five sonatas in this collection, Muffat did not share Corelli's talents for melodic writing or harmonic experimentation.
Considering the academic credentials of Gunar Letzbor and company, this is no recording for mere novelty value. What Muffat misses in terms of musical interest, he did make up for in precise instructions on performance practice, and the well-rehearsed group reaps the benefits of the composer's instructions
The ensemble plays with a welcome combination of technical precision highlighted by special attention to intonation, an agreeable change from the many authentic groups for whom intonation remains elusive. The intricate Fuga from Sonata no. 5 stands out for its finely balanced voice-leading Ars Antiqua Austria achieves further success in its interpretation of the dance movements in Sonata no. 3: the Corrente, Gavotta and Rondeau provide a delightful imitation of the dance forms that inspired them.
On second thoughts Ars Antiqua Austria might persuade the listener to reconsider Georg Muffat.
HEATHER KURZBAUER

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Muffat: Armonico Tributo, 1682 .
Ars Antiqua Austria, Letzbor.
Symphonia 00183 (2001; 66’35)

Mit Corellis Opus 6 gehört Georg Muffats Armonico Tributo zu den ersten Vorstößen ins Genre des Concerto grosso. Denn die Konzerte Corellis waren - obwohl erst 1713 nach zahlreichen Revisionen veröffentlicht - in den 30 Jahren zuvor häufig aufgeführt worden. 1680 war Muffat nach Italien gereist, um bei Bernardo Pasquini zu studieren. Dort traf er einen Mitarbeiter Pasquinis - Corelli -, lernte dessen Konzerte kennen und schrieb in diesem Stil seine eigenen Sonate die die Zustimmung Corellis erhalten hatten (so Muffat m Vorwort zum Armonico Tributo). Diese Stücke durften demnach mit ihrer damals häufigen Besetzung von 2 Violinen, 2 Violen und Bass der Urfassung von Corellis Opus 6 sehr nahe kommen.
Doch die Musik ist nicht nur aus diesem Grund interessant sondern beeindruckt durch Dichte und Einfallsreichtum. Die Musiker um Gunar Letzbor zeigen das mit Inbrunst geschärfter Rhythmik und süßem, südlich schimmerndem Klang - faszinierend und meisterlich!
Felix Loy

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