Fux: Il fonte della salute

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Fux
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Il fonte della salute
PERFORMER: Kumiko Koike, Linda Perillo, Ann Monoyios (soprano), Henning Voss (countertenor), Johannes Chum (tenor), Wolfgang Bankl (bass-baritone); Vienna Academy/Martin Haselböck
CATALOGUE NO: 999 680-2
If you thought Fux principally an influential theorist and contrapuntist, the ‘Austrian Palestrina’ – as did I – this Viennese ‘Sepolcro’ of 1716 will come as an unexpected treasure. It is strongly Italianate in style, effectively an oratorio of recitatives and da capo arias from allegorical characters, their dramatic activity very limited. But their passions match those of contemporary Italian opera, from Chum’s blustering as the ‘Obstinate Sinner’, through Demon’s jaunty invitation to sin (Bankl accompanied by a pair of sensuous bassoons), to chameleon-like changes of mood from Monoyios, ‘Justice’.

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Though his music is often structured through close imitation and fluent counterpoint, Fux is a surprisingly gifted melodist, worthy of comparison with Handel or Alessandro Scarlatti. But innovative instrumental sounds haunt my memory too: a duet of chalumeau and trombone accompanying Koike’s moving contemplation of the Cross, some charming continuo invention from Jeremy Joseph on chamber organ and, the high spot of the whole work, a heavenly aria with gamba obbligato from countertenor Henning Voss, focused, restrained and breathtakingly beautiful.

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Though Perillo as ‘Mercy’ has some hard edges, the whole solo team is strong. Some careless unisons from the vulnerably few strings occasionally mar orchestral sound. But no Baroque enthusiast should miss this remarkable revelation. George Pratt