Saturday, April 30, 2016

"Paisiello in Vienna" recorded in 2015 by Izhar Elias, Alon Sariel and Michael Tsalka

Giovanni Paisiello  (
Paisiello in Vienna – Variations on “Nel cor più non mi sento” (Brilliant Classics) features performance by Izhar Elias (guitar) Alon Sariel (mandolin) and Michael Tsalka (fortepiano). It  was recorded at the Museum Geelvinck Hinlopen Huis, Amsterdam in 2015.

Born in the Kingdom of Naples, Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816) was trained in Naples and established his reputation as an opera composer there. He and his librettist Giambattista Lorenzi collaborated to write fast-moving comic operas as well as larger, dramatic operas. In 1776, the composer moved to St. Petersburg at the suggestion of Empress Catherine II, remaining there for eight years, during which time he composed most of his operas. In 1774, Paisiello spent a short time in Vienna in the employ of Emperor Joseph II, where his comic operas enjoyed much popularity. He returned to Naples to serve as theatre composer in the court of King Ferdinand IV. Hearing that Napoleon was an admirer of his music, Paisiello left for Paris in 1802, returning to Naples in 1804. He was known to have composed more than 80 operas, some 40 Masses and other sacred works, symphonies and various other instrumental works. “Nel cor più non mi sento” (In my heart I no longer feel) is sung twice in his opera “L’Amor contrastato” or “La Molinara” (1788) - first by the beautiful Rachelina, to be reiterated by playboy Calloandro, then to be sung by her again, this time answered by the notary Pistolfo, who is also in love with her. Not music of any complexity, the simple song has been and remains a longstanding staple of voice students. It has also been used by as the subject for variations by such composers as Bartolomeo Bortolazzi, Hummel, Beethoven, Johann Baptist Wanhal, Paganini, Sor, Friedrich Silcher, Giovanni Bottesini, Luigi Castellacci, Joseph Gelinek, Christoph August Gabler, Moritz Lichnowsky, Ferdinand Kauer, Nicola Antonio Manfroce and Mauro Giuliani. This disc presents a selection of the variations.

The second focus of the disc is the popularity of the mandolin and guitar in Vienna. During the first decade of the 19th century, for example, Bartolomeo Bortolazzi (1778-1820) a key figure of the mandolin and six-string guitar, who moved to Vienna in 1805, was known in Vienna as a virtuoso artist, composer of instrumental- and vocal music and author of two best-selling methods for the mandolin and guitar. Alon Sariel, playing an original 1850 Pilade Mauri mandolin, accompanied by Izhar Elias on an original 1812 Carlo Guadagnini guitar, presented the solo with elegance, refined ornamentation and a hint of flexing and inégal mannerism, the two artists excellently coordinated in a reading rich in vivacity. Of the greatest guitarists of his time, Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829) was one of the principal composers writing for guitar and the combination of piano and guitar. He arrived in Vienna around 1806. Elias and Michael Tsalka perform Giuliani’s Introduction and Variations in A on Paisiello’s “Nel cor più non mi sento” opus 113, followed by the Polonaise Allegro in A. Tsalka is playing a ca. 1820 Joseph Böhm fortepiano and what a wonderful balance this instrument strikes with the guitar. In a rewarding rendering of the Giuliani piece, both artists address detail, shape and gestures, highlighting the beauty and charm of Classical clarity. Topping off Giuliani’s variations is the hearty, more challenging Polonaise, its momentum building up to a triumphant ending.

Variations were popular fare for the many pianists and piano students in Vienna. From 1793 to 1801, his first decade in Vienna, Beethoven composed some twelve or more sets of variations on popular melodies; all were snapped up by the publishers. The story has it that Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) wrote his “Six Variations in G” Wo070 (1795) for a lady who had been seated next to him at a performance of “La Molinara”, completing the work overnight. In his articulate and spontaneous presentation of the work, Tsalka’s playing goes beyond displaying the different figuration of each variation, as he addresses questions of ornamentation, scoring, timbre and texture. And how appealing and authentic the variations sound played on the fortepiano! Prolific Bohemian composer Johann Baptist Wanhal (1730-1813) went to Vienna in 1760, studying with Karl Dittersdorf, then returning there in 1780, where he supported himself as a freelance composer. He was much published and the Viennese public appreciated the music of this important and influential figure. His “Six Variations in G” opus 42 on the same Paisiello song were originally scored for violin/flute and guitar/fortepiano. Elias, Tsalka and Sariel present it with mandolin, guitar and fortepiano. The liner notes remind the listener that “the liberty of substituting one melodic instrument for another was a fairly common practice during the Classical and Romantic Eras”. The artists’ performance of the Wanhal work - rich and hearty, bristling in cantabile playing and in fine collaboration, with a touch of caprice and humour – highlights the composer’s warmth and independent spirit. With Wanhal an unduly neglected composer, Michael Tsalka is drawing attention to this master in live performance and in his recording of Wanhal’s Capriccios.

Other works here not based on Paisiello’s modest opera melody include another three attractive Beethoven works, in which Sariel and Tsalka collaborate superbly in playing that is a celebration of the freshness, energy and invention of the young composer not yet engrossed in the brooding and suffering of his later life. Then there are two stylish works by eminent Austrian composer, concert pianist and improviser Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837), the last representative of the Viennese Classical School. Elias joins Tsalka in Hummel’s “Pot-pourri” opus 53, entertaining with its quotes from popular operas, as guitar and fortepiano communicate, express and interweave engagingly in this work of variety and joie-de-vivre. 

The third focus of the CD is the genre of house music in Vienna, activity decisive in the shifting of musical patronage from the aristocracy to the upper middle class. These salon concerts often required performance by all attendees, regardless of whether they were amateur or professional players (or singers). It also boosted music publishing and the piano industry. The works on this disc call to mind the repertoire for private performance in the homes of the bourgeoisie, the body of Hauskonzert works all too easily overlooked today and sadly neglected.  The bright, vivid quality of “Paisiello in Vienna” presents every detail of this music with articulacy as performed by three outstanding artists, together with the genuineness and refreshing naiveté of music of the Classical era. 


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