Rupert Ignaz Mayr (1646-1712)
Sacri Concentus – Antiphonae (1681)
In terras descendam
Ave Regina coelorum
Salve Regina
Alma Redemptoris mater
Regina coeli
Christian Ziemski (treble), Alois Mühlbacher (soprano), Markus Forster (alto), Markus Miesenberger (tenor), Gerd Kenda (bass)
Ars Antiqua Austria/Gunar Letzbor
rec. 2018, Altomonte-Saal in the St. Florian Convent, St. Florian, Austria
Texts included, no translations

In the course of his career and the existence of his ensemble Ars Antiqua Austria, Gunar Letzbor has performed and recorded much repertoire written in Austria and nearby regions, such as Bohemia and southern Germany, that was hardly known before, or even not known at all. In vocal music he closely cooperated with St. Florian and its boys’ choir, from which often also the soloists were taken. The disc under review here represents a further step in the exploration of little-known repertoire. Rupert Ignaz Mayr is not a really unknown quantity; I have several discs with his music in my collection, and some pieces on this disc have been recorded before. Even so, his music is seldom performed and recorded, and the discs I referred to were released by minor labels and may not be available anymore.

Mayr is one of the representatives of the high Baroque in Southern Germany. He was born in Schärding, near Passau, but nothing is known about his musical education. In 1670 he entered the service of the Prince-Bishop of Freising as a violinist. From 1683 he worked at the court of Elector Max Emanuel in Munich, where he not only acted as violinist but also started to compose. In 1706 he returned to Freising to work as Kapellmeister and composed religious and instrumental music. There he also wrote a number of school operas to be performed by the students of the episcopal seminary. Today Mayr is a relatively minor figure in the music scene, but in his time he was a respected composer and twenty years after his death Johann Gottfried Walther included him in his Musicalisches Lexicon.

Southern Germany was under Italian influence; it was in particular Johann Caspar Kerll – who had studied with Frescobaldi in Rome – who brought it to Munich. Mayr’s music reflects this influence as he makes use of the Italian concertato style; the pieces on this disc attest to that. In addition he composed motets in the stile antico. Another feature of Mayr’s works is that he often treats voices and instruments on equal terms. One could probably argue that Mayr was a mostly rather conservative composer. The musical language of the ‘school operas’ on sacred subjects, for instance, is reminiscent of the oratorios of Giacomo Carissimi (1605 – 1674).

This disc is one of two, which are devoted to the oeuvre of Mayr. The first includes five Psalms from the same collection (review) from which the four antiphons in the present disc are taken. The first item is different: In terras descendam is intended for Christmastide. It describes how an angel descends from heaven to annouce the birth of Jesus (the opening words are in the first person singular). This is illustrated by descending figures which are later repeated at a higher pitch. The piece includes pastoral elements, with the participation of a recorder, as one may expect, in the second section in which the shepherds are urged to visit baby Jesus. In the ensuing sections the growth of the baby into a man is effectively depicted with musical means. Christian Ziemski – a lovely voice from St Florian’s boys’ choir – is the outstanding soloist in this very nice piece.

The other items are settings of the four Marian antiphons. Ave Regina coelorum includes an obbligato violin part. The violin opens the work with a solo episode, which is technically demanding, and includes scales over its entire range. The vocal part includes melismas, but omits wide leaps. The violin solo is repeated later at a higher pitch, inspired by the text: “Rejoice, virgin”. The performance shows an excellent partnership of Forster and Letzbor.

Salve Regina is scored for soprano with two violins, basso di viola and basso continuo. It opens with a sinfonia which is dominated by traditional counterpoint. The text is divided into five sections. The first opens with ascending figures. The ‘Ad te clamamus’ section has the form of a recitative, and the string parts include ligature e durezze. The vocal part has the usual sighing motifs. The ensuing section comprises wide leaps and dotted quavers. The piece ends in a serene way. Alois Mühlbacher delivers a technically assured and musically expressive performance.

The largest ensemble is employed in Alma redemptoris mater: tenor, two violins, two violas, basso di viola and basso continuo. It opens with a sinfonia, very much like that in the previous piece. Notable are the dotted rhythms and the way Mayr has singled out the words “you have brought forth, for nature to marvel”. Again, sighing motifs are used when the singer asks for mercy on sinners. Markus Miesenberger does well in bringing out these features.

Mary is glorified in Regina coeli, and therefore the scoring for bass, two trumpets and basso continuo does not come as a surprise. The trumpets are only silent in the second section: “the Son you merited to bear”, but they enter at the Alleluia, and at the repeat they play at a higher pitch. It is the Alleluia which ends each line that Mayr focuses on, and here he pulls out all the stops to express the glory of the Virgin Mary. Gerd Kenda, Franz Landlinger and Bernhard Müringer are a perfect combination to convey what the composer wanted to achieve.

This disc (and the previous one) amply demonstrate what a fine composer Rupert Ignaz Mayr was. It is true that in some of his works he is rather conservative, but that does not go for the pieces performed here, which are entirely in accordance with the style of his time. He certainly knew how to illustrate a text in such a manner that its content is communicated. The performers are pretty much ideal advocates of Mayr’s oeuvre. I hope that we may expect more treasures from his oeuvre.

Johan van Veen

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