Arie & Sinfonie of Johann Georg Reutter – Not to be missed!

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Johann Georg Reutter (1708-1772) lived and worked at a time when the support and practice of music composition and performance had fully blossomed at the Imperial Court in Vienna, during and just following the reign of the music-loving Emperor Charles VI. The court was richly endowed with many fine singers and instrumentalists. At the time when Reutter was appointed court composer, he had 17 singers, an organist, 12 string players and an assistant at his disposal.

Although little known, Reutter is one of the most prolific composers that Austria has ever produced. During his lifetime he was best known for his sacred music, which included about 80 masses, 126 motets, 6 requiems, 53 hymns and 151 psalm settings. However, all of the music on this Accent CD is drawn from his secular compositions, made up of predominantly operatic arias and sinfonias.

I found Reutter’s music, especially in the more somber movements, to be exquisite. In the darkly beautiful Pizzicato for solo violin and continuo, the mournful violin melody is suspended over a cold, pulsating, and rather indifferent sounding accompaniment of bowed and plucked strings. Occasionally there is a brief harmonic shift from the predominantly minor to a hopeful major key, but it does not last long before sighing and returning to its sorrowful tone. This four minute piece is a minor masterwork.

Some of his music is quite unlike anything I’ve heard before. One reason for this, and what I think is one of the music’s most irresistible charms, is the occasional use of the theorbo (or archlute) and a hammered dulcimer (or salterio) in the role of basso continuo in the instrumental pieces, or to accompany the solo vocal numbers. For example, the aria Dura legge begins with a traditional sounding continuo of cello and harpsichord. Then after the opening stanza the theorbo, which is then joined by the hammered dulcimer, play together in imitation of the vocal line, and the sound is absolutely magical!

I have not given any credit to the performers yet. Nuovo Aspetto perform this music with anywhere from three to about a dozen musicians. The string band performs on period instruments in a very pleasant style – without vibrato, subtly nuanced and with long tones that are allowed to “bloom.” It’s all very beautiful. Special mention must be made of mezzo-soprano Olivia Vermeulen, whose light and crystal clear voice can shine like polished silver.

Hats off to Accent for bringing this wonderful music to us. Now, how about some of Johann Reutter’s sacred music?