WORKS: Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II; Cantata on the Accession of Emperor Leopold II; Opferlied; Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt
PERFORMER: Judith Howarth, Janice Watson (soprano), Jean Rigby (mezzo-soprano), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), José van Dam (bass); Corydon Singers & Orchestra/Matthew Best
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66880
Even if not every single gesture is maturely handled, the early memorial cantata, written when Beethoven was just 19, is an outstanding achievement, showing a vivid musical imagination flexing its muscles. One of its most striking themes was to find a second home, years later, in Fidelio – though the cantata itself was neither performed nor published in the composer’s lifetime. The same fate befell the accession cantata for Leopold II which, although not so consistently extraordinary, is still highly rewarding, containing in the soprano aria ‘Wonnezähre, fliesse!’ one of the most showy pieces of vocal writing in the composer’s output.
Judith Howarth proves highly accomplished here, while her mezzo colleague Jean Rigby sounds a note of nobility in the much later Sacrificial Song (1824). The visionary Calm Sea cantata is marginally better known (if less so than Mendelssohn’s programmatic overture on the subject), but all four of these rarities show unexpected aspects of a familiar composer.
The sopranos are occasionally stretched by Beethoven’s disobliging choral writing, but in other respects the disciplined approach of the Corydon Singers proves eloquent. Matthew Best’s carefully managed dynamics allow the music’s drama to register powerfully, though there is some want of impact in the recording itself. George Hall