Sometimes we forget that in the textbook musical march of binary oppositions – for example, Baroque/Classical/Romantic/Modernist – there arose in the 1760s the Sturm und Drang (“storm and stress”) movement.
The exponents of this violent reaction against stultifying galant elegance enjoyed just two decades of Dionysian abandon before the pendulum swung back the other way to usher in the reign of Apollo.
Of course, that’s oversimplifying matters. Movements are symptomatic of the Zeitgeist, rather than the other way around. The music of the greatest composers is both emblematic and atypical of its time, embracing different styles and straddling periods, evolving with the change in tastes and fashion. It’s a question of emphasis, of degree. That’s what makes this superb first volume in Ian Page and period instrument ensemble The Mozartists’ projected seven-volume series exploring the music of the Sturm und Drang movement so fascinating and surprising.
Joseph Haydn is more readily associated with the Classical period. Gluck, on the other hand, could be seen as the Godfather of musical Sturm und Drang.
Niccolò Jommelli (1714-1774), Tomasso Traetta (1727-1779) and Franz Ignaz Beck (1734-1809) are lesser-known names, but the works here are undeniable proof of their Sturm und Drang credentials.
Intensity of expression comes in different forms. Page and the Mozartists open with sustained tension exploding in fury, the hellish final scene of Gluck’s 1761 ballet Don Juan, said to have initiated the Sturm und Drang period – a real white-knuckle ride of infernal proportions.
Jomelli’s aria “Ombre che tacite qui sede” from his opera Fetonte, Haydn’s “Non c’èchi mi aiuta” from La Canterina and Traetta’s “Crudeli, fermate” and “Sofonisba, che aspetti?” from Sofonisba book-end Beck’s electrifying Symphony No 3 in G Minor. If soprano Chiara Skerath brings a frightening dramatic intensity to the arias without avoiding caricature, Page and players thrash the heck out of the Beck (in a good way), the only respite the charming Andante.
Haydn’s Symphony No 49 “La Passione” (1768) comes from his so-called Sturm und Drang period. It receives an equally exciting performance, while providing a fitting conclusion to a recording that is just the start of a journey you won’t want to miss the bus for.
Composers: Gluck, Jommelli, Haydn, Beck, Traetta
Compositions: Don Juan – Ballet suite, Ombre che tacite qui sede (from Fetonte), Non v’è chi mi aiuta (from La Canterina), Sinfonia in G minor, Op. 3, No 3 (Callen 15), Sofonisba, Symphony No 49 in F minor La Passione
Performers: Chiara Skerath s, The Mozartists, Ian Page cond
Catalogue Number: Signum SIGCD619