Don Juan, Wq.52 – XXX: Larghetto; XXXI: Chaconne (Allegro non troppo)
Fetonte – “Ombre che tacite qui sede”
La canterina, Hob.XXVIII/2 – “Non v’è chi mi aiuta”
Symphony in G minor, Op. 3/3
Sofonisba – “Crudeli, ahime, che fate?”; “Sofonisba, che aspetti?”
Symphony No.49 in F Minor, Hob.I:49 (La passione)
Chiara Skerath (soprano)
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: July 2021
CD No: Signum Classics SIGCD619
Duration: 71 minutes
The final scene from Gluck’s Don Juan is an orchestral portrayal of the Don being cast into Hell. A threatening slow introduction leads to the often-performed Dance of the Furies. Boccherini was so impressed that he adapted this fiery orchestral showpiece very effectively for use as the finale to his D minor Symphony which is subtitled as ‘La casa del diavolo’. Gluck’s dramatic creation is played with precise brilliance by the accomplished The Mozartists and makes an ideal overture to this collection entitled Sturm und Drang.
Thereafter, the programming is bizarre. Sprinkled between two excellent symphonic examples of the period are several operatic ‘bleeding chunks’ (to use Donald Francis Tovey’s famous description of bits taken out of operas). Perhaps their connection to Sturm und Drang was thought to be represented by their consistent gloominess. Jomelli’s Fetonte has Phaeton singing “the horror which oppresses me”, Haydn’s Gasparina complains that she is “Tormented and grieving” and Traetta’s Sofonisba sings “Ah my savage torment”. At the end of her second aria there is the stage direction ‘She takes the poison’. Perhaps 18th-century audiences enjoyed agonised operatic soliloquies and Chiara Skerath sings beautifully, she is even required to take the part of Phaeton. Her soaring soprano voice with just a touch of vibrato lightens the gloom but out of their context these vocal fragments are of no significance.
The two well-chosen Symphonies are another matter. Franz Ignaz Beck (1734–1809) is largely ignored nowadays, although this G-minor symphony has been recorded once or twice. It is darkly dramatic. Scored only for strings with two horns, it is fierce from the outset, with momentary relaxations for effect, coped with skilfully by Ian Page so as not to lose the music’s impetus. Beck’s symphony is as well constructed as one by Haydn or Mozart although the melodies are less memorable. The Minuet is particularly sturdy and Page reveals an element of grandeur. As with some conductors using period style, he makes the two Minuet repeats both before and after the Trio and here this seems suitable.
As with Beck’s, Page supplies Haydn’s sonata movements generously with repeats (it is rare but welcome to hear both in the opening Adagio movement) but the Minuet is peculiar. Taken rather swiftly the contour is ruined by making the first Minuet repeat after the Trio but not the second. Make both or neither and symmetry would be achieved but here the movement ends with the feeling: “where is the rest of it”? This is a shame because the dashing Allegro and Presto movements are played at high speed with conviction and amazing accuracy. This is an excellent period band. It plays at A=430 Hz with a warm string sound, but although cembalo continuo is indicated in the Universal Edition score of the symphony and a harpsichordist is named in the orchestral personnel, I cannot detect the instrument.