Souvenirs d’Italie: Mr Harrach’s Musical Diaries

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COMPOSERS: Caldara,Forenza,Hasse,Piani,Sammartini,Vinci
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Souvenirs d’Italie: Mr Harrach’s Musical Diaries
WORKS: Concertos and Sonatas by Sammartini, Caldara, Vinci, Hasse, Piani and Forenza
PERFORMER: Maurice Steger (recorder and music director); various musicians
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902253

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During six years’ service in Naples, 18th-century Austrian diplomat Count Aloys von Harrach collected works by the cream of local wind composers – perfect souvenirs for his musical family. Maurice Steger’s recital draws on these remarkable manuscripts. Charting some unfamiliar territory in the flautino concertos of Sammartini and Montanari or the recorder sonatas of Fiorenza and Piani, Steger’s pure, vocal tone captures the jauntiness and lilt of lively moments, while slow movements are imbued with lyricism and the florid ornamentation we have come to expect in his performances.

The contemporary French critics might have dismissed Johann Adolph Hasse’s operatic melodies as ‘castrato gurgling’ but their dazzling virtuosity would allegedly turn music lovers ‘giddy with excitement’. Steger certainly conjures this through eyepopping articulation and suave showmanship, notably present in Hasse’s Cantata per flauto in B flat major. Not all the works are as memorable, but throughout the Neapolitan flavours are captured in abundance thanks to the verve of his accompanying musicians – varying the large continuo team from keyboards and bassoon, to the shimmering salterio and lute (beautiful in Fiorenza’s Sonata per flauto in A Minor), or the full sound of his Orchestra of Friends (shown to full effect in Leonardo Vinci’s Overture from Elpidia). With spot-on intonation, Steger draws every ounce of suspension and bite of chromaticism from these compositions, particularly in Lelio Colisa’s Sinfonia a 3.

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Hannah French