Kraus: Cantatas

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Phoenix
WORKS: Cantatas: La Primavera; La Gelosia, La Pesca; La Scusa; Olympie – incidental music


PERFORMER: Simone Kermes (soprano); L’Arte del Mondo/Werner Ehrhardt



Joseph Martin Kraus (1756-92) was German born but worked in Sweden from 1778. He was highly original, as these cantatas demonstrate. They were written for a soprano with exceptional powers of virtuosity and expression, a role splendidly assumed by Simone Kermes. She is compellingly dramatic in both pacing and expression, equally effective in stage whispers, snarling jealousy and a heavenly cantabile. In some of the most spectacular coloratura I’ve heard, she sings yards of passagi up to ‘E in alt’, with a deceptive ease concealing an impeccable technique. Absurd virtuosity is demanded – and astonishingly nearly achieved – in ‘La Primavera’ (Spring), a caricature of the overblown Italian style of the day. By contrast, ‘La Scusa’ (The Apology) is an extended dramatic scena, aria melting almost imperceptibly into accompanied recitative – most sensitively managed. ‘La Pesca’ (Fishing) describes a scene at night beside a placid sea barely rippled by gentle breezes. The orchestra colours the text in Haydnesque fashion though, with no English translation, printed or web-based, you need fluent Italian to grasp the nuances. The excellent SACD sound expands domestic listening into a spacious acoustic. The orchestra alone contributes four movements from incidental music to Olympie, a Voltaire play imported to Stockholm in 1792. It was Kraus’s last significant music before the assassination of his patron Gustav III and his own death a few months later. The Ouverture contains attractive wind colouring over the theatre-pit-sized string ensemble though, divorced from its succeeding movement, it ends uncomfortably suspended on the dominant before the first cantata in a distant key. Kraus was sent on a four-year study tour by Gustav and wrote incidental music for Molière’s Amphitryon in Paris. It contains four Intermèdes – orchestral pieces, arias and choruses – and a final Divertissement. Much is attractively atmospheric. Rippling strings introduce the calm of night; Chantal Santon is appealing in quieter singing, though in a ‘Queen of the Night’-like air her coloratura isn’t always centred. But lacking accompanying drama, staging, costume, movement and dance, the harmonically minimalist music barely sustains interest. Liner notes and orchestra disagree over the final track, not the claimed Chaconne but an impressive Mozartian symphonic movement. George Pratt