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Mayr: Psalms from Sacri Concentus 1681 - Letzbor

Mayr: Psalms from Sacri Concentus 1681 - Letzbor

Challenge Classics  CC 72759

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Mayr: Laudate pueri Dominum (Psalm 112/113), Nisi Dominus (Psalm 126/127), Beati omnes (Psalm 127/128), Confitebor tibi Domine (Psalm 110/111), Venite gentes (Hymnus)

Fabian Winkelmaier (treble)
Markus Miesenberger (tenor)
Markus Forster & Alois Mühlbacher (counter-tenors)
Gerd Kenda (bass)
Ars Antiqua Austria
Gunar Letzbor (conductor)


Ars Antiqua Austria and Gunar Letzbor present outstanding sacred concerts by Rupert Ignaz Mayr (1646-1712) for voice, a virtuoso solo violin and basso continuo. Mayr, working in Munich from 1683 until his death, is considered a reformer of southern Germany’s Catholic sacred music with his clever combining of the largely protestant sacred concert of the north with the extemporizing concertante style of Italy.

R.I. Mayr’s works were influenced by his study trip to Paris as well as the Italian musicians who dominated musical life at the Munich court. Paired with echoes of Bavarian folk music, Mayr’s music reveals both a typically Austrian blend as well as very personal hues.

At that time, Catholic church music was dominated by the stile antico. Mayr gently expands this ancient art by introducing the concerto form as well as the monody. He elaborately weaves polyphonic textures, his monodies emerging highly expressive, melodious and also virtuosic. Mayr easily joins the ranks of his famous Austrian colleagues, matching the quality of a J.K. Kerll or the Austrian masters around H.F. Biber.

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - August 4, 2018

Gunar Letzbor is a real phenomenon in the small but dedicated ‘period’ world and this is already his fifth SACD release with his Ars Antiqua Austria on Challenge Classics. He has brought some less often played but nonetheless worth-one’s-while Baroque composers like Biber and Graupner to the attention of the hi-res community. And this time he treats us to ‘Psalms from Sacri Concentus 1681’ from Rupert Ignaz Mayr, a German composer who may not ring a hefty bell amongst most of us.

On the 25th of July 1706, so we learn from the liner notes, Ruper Ignaz Mayr, at the time a highly respected German violinist, was appointed ‘Kapellmeister’ at the Archbishop’s court in Freising (Bavaria) by Prince Bishop Johann Franz Eckher von Kapfing. Out of curiosity I checked the internet only to discover that it is remarkably quiet about this composer. The same goes for my two volumes of ‘Larousse de la musique’, listing 2 Mayrs, but none of them Rupert Ignaz. So we owe it to Gunnar Letzbor, thus proving himself to be an excellent scholar in this field that through his detailed liner notes Mayr has now been put more clearly on the map.

As usual in those days, women were banned from singing in Church. With this in mind, Letzbor entrusted the soprano parts in No. 1. ‘Laudate pueri Dominum’ (Psalm 112/113) and No. 5. ‘Venite gentes’ (Hymnus) to material sourced from selected boy choristers to perform the treble parts and a counter tenor for the alto part in No. 3. 'Beati omnes’, thus adding a substantial dose of rarely heard authenticity to Mayr’s ‘Sacri Concentus’. However, in doing so, we have to accept that technique and intonation are not always optimal. That said I noted a marked difference between the two ‘sopranos’ as explained below.

In his ‘Reflections from the Podium’ Letzbor pays much attention to singing in church and the fact that the “Augustinion Monastry has upheld the tradition of training boys for liturgical singing since 1071”. He furthermore refers to the ‘Stift Sankt Florian’ (St. Florian Abbey), founded in 1071. It is not clear if both are the same, but whatever the case, it is the latter that continues to train talented boys to sing in church, doing the Austrian choral community an immense service. The Stift's choir, ‘The Sankt Florianer Sängerknaben’, are highly acclaimed all over Europe and beyond. One of the trebles, Fabian Winkelmaier (No. 1), is one of them, and the other, Alois Mühlbacher (soprano in No. 5), was one, too, but is now listed above as counter tenor.

The liner notes tell us that the voice of the elder of the two, Alois Mühlbacher, broke already some time ago, and furthermore that he, at the age of 22, is still able to “sing in the high register”. Apart from this being a kind of miracle, the obvious age difference clearly has a positive bearing on his technical skills and intonation. On the other hand, Fabian Winkelmaier, still having the voice of a genuine boy’s soprano, surprises with a superbly innocent honesty and touching clarity in the high notes. And I must say that, having been - in the haziness of bygone days - a treble myself, young Winkelmaier evoked in me a deeply felt sense of nostalgic emotion, largely outweighing some technical imperfections inherent in the early stages of his vocal development.

The alto part is sung by the counter tenor, Markus Forster, who has taken lessons from Paul Esswood, as many of the mature listeners surely remember, one of the best pioneers in this domain during the days of the Deller Consort. He acquits himself of this task wonderfully, with a well-developed, finely sculpted voice. As for the other two soloists, attentive listeners will no doubt spot the printing error: The bass Gerd Kenda isn’t singing in No. 4. ‘Nisi dominus’ (Psalm 126/127) but No. 2. 'Confitebor tibi domini’ (Psalm 110/111), with a deep and rich voice, whereas the tenor, Markus Miesenberger (he also plays the baroque viola), with a typical church cantor recite, is listed the other way around.

Add to this the 6 musicians of Ars Antiqua Austria, playing on period instruments (4 strings, theorbo and organ), and the superlative NorthStar recording on location (Stift Sankt Florian), this release will not fail to inspire all those who adore liturgical singing, and most likely also many others, wanting to know more about this (late) Baroque composer.

Blangy-le-Château,
Normandy, France

Copyright © 2018 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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