MUSIC BY A FELLOW WHO FOUGHT HANDEL
While I can’t think of many composers whose lives would be a suitable subject of a theatrical work, the life story of Johann Mattheson could be made into an opera or a play or even a good action movie. I only wish his music were as varied and compelling. Just imagine that he crossed both words and swords with his good friend George Friedrich Handel over a musical issue.
Unfortunately, after listening twice to three CD’s issued this year by the enterprising folks at Athene Records, a subsidiary of Divine Art Recordings Group I was left with a sense of numbing sameness achieved over almost three hours twice of dutiful listening.
Each of the twelve compositions are similarly structured: a brief introductory movement, often labeled Allemande or Ouverture is randomly followed by alternating fast, slow, fast, slow sections variously named Courante, Sarabande, Gigue, Menuet, and so forth. The structure of these suites is invariably correct, adhering to theoretical principles that the composer dutifully obeyed. But a sense of adventure and unpredictability is never present in the music of this neglected composer of the German Baroque.
The very fine harpsichordist Gilbert Rowland undertook the Herculean task of recording all twelve suites for harpsichord by Mattheson, and it is a pleasure to report that his playing is nothing short of excellent, restrained when sobriety is needed, brilliant when brightness is in order, always elegant and technically dazzling. A glance at the Divine Art catalogue will reveal that Rowland has taken a similar challenge with the suites for harpsichord by Handel. I would check that out.
As usual with anything issued by Divine Art, the production by Stephen Sutton and the boxed packaging are first class, the engineering by John Taylor is splendid, the multi-lingual liner notes by Gilbert Roland himself scholarly yet entertaining.
For the inveterate collector this set (ATH 23301) is well-worth acquiring (http://divineartrecords.com) Unless you are reviewing, I suggest doing the listening in a leisurely manner. When your time permits read up on this Baroque composer, singer, harpsichordist, organist, writer, linguist, diplomat, theoretician, swordsman and educator. I think you’ll like the music better.
Rafael de Acha