Naxos' survey of the music of Johann Simon Mayr (1763-1845) continues this month with the world première recording of his first opera, Saffo. Mayr's music is an ingenious melting pot of the innovations explored by the Viennese giants of his day - Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven - while displaying an assured instinct for Italianate style that clearly sets him as a forerunner to Rossini.
“Simon Mayr was one of the most celebrated opera composers in Europe around the turn of the nineteenth century. There were certainly good reasons for this. Rediscovering Mayr’s music and introducing it to today’s audiences is an exciting challenge. Each project takes a lot of time. I read the autographs and original manuscripts, I correct the new edition and I study the performing practices of the respective period. After all, in our Mayr enterprises we have always shared the same opinion: the effort is worthwhile. Enjoy Mayr!”
– Franz Hauk
MAYR, J.S.: Saffo [Opera] A.L. Brown, M. Schäfer, Jaewon Yun, Bavarian State Opera Chorus, Simon Mayr Choir, Concerto de Bassus, Hauk
No one did more to combine in his operas the innovations of the Viennese classical composers, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, with the Italian ideal of bel canto than Johann Simon Mayr, the Bavarian composer who rose to fame in Italy. His opera Saffo, first performed in 1794, dates from his years in Venice. Not only was it his first opera but it was premièred at the Teatro La Fenice where it was enthusiastically received. It is full of surprising and striking elements, with a strong musical realisation of the text, supportive string and woodwind writing and vivid solo and choral effects. Set by the Rock of Leucas, from which unsuccessful lovers leap to their deaths, the opera deals with the poetess Sappho’s unhappy love for Phaon, finally resolved in a happy ending.
Listen to an extract from Act I: L'onda del mar, che al vento
About the Artists
Franz Hauk has served as organist at Ingolstadt Minster since 1982 and, since 1995, also as choirmaster. He has given concerts in Europe and the United States and made a number of recordings. Since October 2002 he has taught in the historical performance and church music department of the Munich Music and Theatre Hochschule, while winning a reputation for his research and the performances he has directed. He founded the Simon Mayr Choir in 2003 and was awarded the German Order of Merit in 2013.
The Simon Mayr Chorus performs repertoire from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. Special emphasis is laid on authentic historical performance and on the promotion of music by Simon Mayr at the highest cultural level. Members of the choir are vocal students from the Munich Hochschule für Music und Theater and singers selected from Ingolstadt and the region. The chorus and the ensemble, newly re-named Concerto de Bassus, with players drawn from leading German orchestras, have recorded a number of works by Simon Mayr for Naxos.
Other recordings by Franz Hauk and the Simon Mayr Chorus and Ensemble
“Franz Hauk…obviously relishes the colorful orchestration yet always keeps things moving. Brown is a sweet Leah; Lang-Alsvik an accurate, exciting Rachel. The orchestra plays expertly, and the sound is excellent.”
– American Record Guide
“The cast, under Franz Hauk, respond magnificently. The recording is based on forces from Ingoldstadt, who have contributed other Mayr recordings on Naxos. All five young singers are highly commendable and deal with Mayr’s more elaborate passage-work in neat, bravura fashion.”
– MusicWeb International
“Once more I do have to mention the solo singers—soprano Talia Or, tenor Altin Piriù, and bass Nikolay Borchev—all first class and very solid in some very challenging music. They have a lot to do here, and they really carry the show. A pleasant surprise!”
“Mayr’s Il sogno di Partenope of which only the second act has survived, is presented in a first rate recording, with excellent solo and choir singing, and the orchestra is likewise good. Highly recommendable.”
– Pizzicato ★★★★★