LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Gold
PERFORMER: Kai Wessel (countertenor); Musica Alta Ripa
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 309 0944-2
In 1771 Hasse’s operatic swansong Il ruggiero was decisively eclipsed in public favour by the Ascanio in Alba of a 15-year-old Mozart. ‘This youngster’, Hasse remarked, ‘will consign us all to oblivion.’ Not quite all, but Hasse certainly. After six decades as one of Europe’s most celebrated composers, Hasse died at a time (1783) that coincided with a major change in musical tastes, precipitating his work’s abrupt decline into an obscurity from which it has still not emerged. Even last year’s tercentenary of his birth failed to spark interest in a composer once admired by both Handel and Haydn.
This new disc clearly highlights Hasse’s appeal and his limitations. The three cantatas, on love’s various joys and sorrows, are supremely accomplished works, elegant and mellifluous, yet lacking in creative excitement and melodic surprise – the epitome of a galant style refined into bland perfection. The instrumental pieces, which include a harpsichord sonata modelled on Domenico Scarlatti and a mandolin concerto probably inspired by Vivaldi, are similarly hard to dislike, easy to forget. Countertenor Kai Wessel and Musica Alta Ripa perform with a subtle expertise that delights the ear, though it’s a shame Dabringhaus und Grimm has not provided English translations for the cantata texts. Graham Lock