Review By James H. North,Fanfare,July 2009
Leitner’s “Oxford” is bright and energetic, with natural horns dominating the tutti…[In the cantatas] Schmiege displays a beautiful voice and maintains a fairly low voltage emotional level, in deference to the 18th century. But Berenice is seriously contemplating suicide, so hysterics are perfectly appropriate, even in the Age of Reason…The text of Miseri noi is less personal but no less dramatic: the singer is contemplating the demise of her nation rather than that of her lover and of herself. Again, beauty of sound trumps intensity.
Review By Lynn René Bayley,Fanfare,July 2009
This new edition of re-releases by the Cappella Coloniensis orchestra under various conductors, recording in the late 1980s, is indeed a welcome reintroduction to a splendid historically informed orchestra that had an enormous impact on the musical scene in Germany. Relistening to them will show that they were much closer in tone and balance to the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields than to Harnoncourt’s gritty-sounding Concentus Musicus Wien or Hogwood’s Academy of Ancient Music. Individual tastes may vary, of course, but I generally prefer and enjoy this kind of sound. Of course, their early years were scrappy sounding, as recordings from the 1950s will attest, but by the time of these discs they had evolved into an ensemble as highly polished as Roger
The orchestra is happily joined in the cantatas by the splendid mezzo Marilyn Schmiege, whose voice is somewhat astringent and not always beautiful but whose style exemplifies the true art of 18th-century bel canto. She is lyrical, pensive, biting, sarcastic, and dramatic by turn, all conveyed by the varied coloration of her voice and her piquant use of rhythm. Listen to the way she sings her florid passages, for example: not for her the smooth, evenly produced tones of most Baroque sopranos, but a rhythmically accented way of “pouncing” on the notes like a cat worrying its prey. She creates tension and release in an almost magical unraveling of phrases, where the musical and dramatic progression of the cantatas is spooled out like a bolt of velvet cloth interlaced with steel wool…It’s a shame that many music-lovers nowadays have rather forgotten Ferdinand Leitner, one of those bold pioneers like Møgens Wöldike, Karl Ristenpart, Thurston Dart, and Helmuth Rilling—all different ages but all active in the 1950s—upon whose stubborn, individualistic shoulders our entire historically informed performance practice is based. Curiously, in fact, Leitner’s interpretation of the “Oxford” Symphony is more modern in concept than the recorded performances of Dorati or Fischer. It could not really be called a featureless performance, it certainly has drama and excellent dynamic contrasts, but it is certainly straightforward. I enjoyed it very much on its own terms…Highly recommended nonetheless.