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James H. North
Fanfare, September 2010

Because Haydn could not attend the premiere of his 1768 cantata Applausus, he wrote a detailed letter covering many details of how it should be performed. This unique document has served as instruction for all Haydn performances, and those of other 18th-century works. All well and good, but the letter has diverted attention from the work itself. Composed to celebrate a monk’s 70th birthday, it is a happy, upbeat piece despite its Latin text. In the words of H. C. Robbins Landon, “the music is fully up to date, with echoes of the composer’s symphonies and operas, though the widespread use of da capo structures checks the natural impetus of the music.”...The four Cardinal Virtues (Temperance, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude) sing of the joys of life at the monastery, in consultation with the church, in the person of Theology. They are accompanied by an orchestra of strings, oboe, bassoon, two horns, trumpet, and timpani, with harpsichord obbligato. The basic format is recitative and aria; included are a duet, quartet, and final chorus, sung by the five soloists (an earlier recording used a chorus, although the score does not call for one). Many of the recitatives are also fully accompanied, adding to the fun.

My first exposure to Applausus was at Tanglewood in 1964, by the Boston Symphony under Erich Leinsdorf (of which there also seems to be a pirate recording); it was less than an hour long, but I didn’t know it well enough to decide how it got that way—missing arias or reduced da capos. There have been at least three commercial recordings, one of which (on Koch) I have not heard. A 1991 modern-instrument recording led by Patrick Fournillier on Opus 111 was consistent and reliable, but this period-instrument performance is its superior in energy and fire. Vocal soloists are satisfactory in both cases, the basses on these discs standing head and shoulders above all others. The gorgeous final chorus makes a greater impact with Spering’s five soloists, firmly anchored by those basses, than with Fournillier’s distantly recorded chorus...Capriccio supplies texts in Latin and German only

Philip Greenfield
American Record Guide, September 2010

When the abbot of the northern Austrian monastery of Zwettl reached the 50th anniversary of his taking of the vows, his Cistercian brothers gave him a set of tableware and this cantata of homage commissioned from the great Franz Joseph Haydn. The Latin text to this Applausus, as such musical acknowledgements of major accomplishments were called, was probably written by one of the abbey priests. Each of the five soloists is one of the virtues said to characterize the abbot’s highly evolved soul: Temperantia, Prudentia, Justitia, Fortitudo, and Theologia. Capriccio offers German translations of these odes to temperance, prudence, justice, fortitude and religion, but nothing in English...True, [Haydn] did supply his patrons with 100 minutes of bright, perky fare, with plenty of coloratura to boot. (Here’s hoping that at least five of the good citizens of Zwettl or thereabouts could warble at high speed.) Haydn kept it all coming too, with some of the da capo arias lasting as long as 15 minutes...The best aria by far is the shortest: a delightful ‘Si Obtrudat Ultimam’ for Fortitudo (one of the baritones) who tips his cap to Messiah’s ‘For He Is Like a Refiner’s Fire’ every time he launches into a phrase. Justitia the tenor is awarded the two longest arias; ‘O Pii Patres Patriae’, a florid, stately 15-minute air that encloses a mini-concerto for the harpsichord, and ‘O Beatus Incolatus’, another 15-minute interlude that adds an obbligato violin to the mix. Part I also boasts a fizzy charmer for soprano and mezzo, as Temperance and Prudence join forces for ‘Dictamina Mea Doceri Qui Gestit’...The playing has brio to spare, while each of the five voices sparkles with youthful charm. Within minutes of the orchestral opening to the first recitative, I was googling to see whether Andreas Spering has recorded any Haydn symphonies with this orchestra. I didn’t see any, but if he ever does, I’m buying.

Richard Wigmore
Gramophone, August 2010

Haydn’s rarely heard cantata offers applause for an Abbot’s celebration

A token of Haydn’s rapidly growing fame in the late 1760s was a prestigious commission from the Cistercian monastery of Zwettl for a Latin congratulatory cantata to celebrate the Abbot’s golden jubilee. In the tradition of applausus works—then a popular genre in Austrian monasteries—the text hymns the joys of the monastic life in a discourse between the four cardinal virtues (Temperance, Prudence, Justice and Fortitude), plus the sobering figure of Theology. Typically, too, Biblical and Hellenic imagery commingle. As the monks would have expected, the music’s forms and idiom are essentially those of mid-18th-century opera seria. Gargantuan da capo arias hold sway, with just three ensembles—a quartet, a duet and a final coro—for variety.

The recipe is hardly a promising one for modern ears; and only the most partisan would claim Applausus as great Haydn. Several numbers lapse into elegantly anonymous note-spinning, not least the tenor aria with violin obbligato, with its meandering chains of thirds and sixths over harmonically static accompaniments. But there are many memorable things, including a whooping aria for Theology—a reminder of Haydn’s magnificently ingenuous remark that whenever he thought of God his heart leapt for joy—a D minor number for Fortitude in Haydn’s most turbulent Sturm und Drang vein, and an eloquent aria for Temperance, warmly coloured by a concertante bassoon part.

This new recording, recorded at concerts in Schloss Augustusburg, Brühl, scores decisively over its sole predecessor, directed by Patrick Fournillier (Opus 111, 4/93—nla). Andreas Spering’s familiar penchant for mobile, springy tempi pays particular dividends in moderato movements such as the quartet and the duet, where Fournillier’s more easy-going approach fails to mitigate the music’s potential long-windedness. The period instruments of Capella Augustina play with that much more colour and imagination than Fournillier’s modern-instrument band (a word, too, for the excellent unnamed harpsichordist in the florid solo of Justice’s first aria). Most crucially, Spering fields a finer, more stylistically assured team of soloists. Donát Havár, a pleasing lyrical tenor, copes gracefully with Haydn’s roulades in his two arias, while soprano Anna Palimina’s crystalline tone and shapely phrasing make Temperance’s aria a highlight of the whole performance. The acoustic is more resonant than I find ideal, though I soon adjusted. While Applausus is always likely to remain on the margins, there are musical rewards here for Haydn aficionados with the patience to sit through the work’s intermittent longueurs.

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