Yvonne Prentki, Katharina Konradi, Markus Schäfer, Uwe Gottswinter; Simon Mayr Chorus; Concerto de Bassus/Franz Hauk (harpsichord)
Naxos 8.660399-400 153:02 mins (2 discs)
Simon Mayr, a contemporary of Beethoven, was known across Europe for his operas. Conductor Franz Hauk, who lives in Mayr’s Bavarian hometown, in 2003 founded the Simon Mayr Chorus and since then has recorded Mayr’s overtures, concert song and sacred works using the same band and choir. In August 2016, Hauk tackled a Mayr opera for the first time, conducting I Cherusci in a live concert which he then recorded.
I Cherusci (1808) is a fetching but frustrating score. The title refers to a Germanic tribe under Roman rule. Its plot centres around the Cheruscan hero freeing his imprisoned beloved from a captor-king smitten with her and a high priest wishing to sacrifice her alive. Love, hate, longing, fear – these Mayr knits into some lovely ensembles, show-stopping soprano solo arias, and shimmering solo instrumental parts. Tusnelda’s Act I cavatina (‘Eccomi a voi’) exemplifies Mayr’s luscious vocalism, which foreshadows Rossini. But as a melodist Mayr falters: his arias just aren’t ear-catching.
Of the cast, Yvonne Prentki as the heroine is the star: a young prize-winning coloratura, she sings in stratospherically high registers with careless ease. Another rising talent is Katharina Konradi, whose colours brings lustre to her minor character. Hauk does a great job welding instrumental to vocal solos and making recitative bustle forward; in virtuoso arias, however, climaxes and their build-ups are predictable. Half the cast are tenors of uneven quality whose ensembles lack blend.