Treasure Trove

Albrecht Mayer turns detective to present Tesori d’Italia, a revelatory Deutsche Grammophon album of exquisite Baroque oboe concertos by Vivaldi, Sammartini, Elmi and Ristori

Passionate about expanding his instrument’s repertoire, German oboist Albrecht Mayer recently embarked on a quest to uncover some of the buried treasures of the Italian Baroque. Several of the gems he discovered are now to be heard on Tesori d’Italia, which is set for release in autumn 2017 and whose tracklist places Vivaldi’s Oboe Concerto in C major RV 450 alongside long-lost but equally beautiful and virtuosic works by Domenico Elmi (c.1676-1744), Giovanni Alberto Ristori (1692-1753) and the London-based Giuseppe Sammartini (1695-1750).

Mayer’s research led him to the so-called “Schranck No: II”, a cabinet of music manuscripts collected by Johann Georg Pisendel (1687-1755), pupil and friend of Vivaldi, during his time as concertmaster to the Dresden court. Its contents included the lyrical concertos of Elmi and Ristori. Mayer’s search also took him to the Music Library of Sweden in Stockholm, home to the original source of Sammartini’s Oboe Concerto in C major (S-Skma Xe-R 166:30). Having unearthed a substantial number of concertos, he then selected a handful of the best for his new album.

In addition to Vivaldi’s C major Concerto, already part of the mainstream oboe repertoire, Tesori d’Italia contains two world premiere recordings and three concertos that have only been recorded once before. Elmi’s A minor Concerto and Sammartini’s Concerto in C major, Op.8 No.4 are both fresh to disc yet richly seasoned in their melodic ideas and invention. Little is known about Domenico Elmi, but his music reveals the influence of Giovanni Gabrieli, and his Oboe Concerto makes a wonderful and stylistically unique addition to this album. The better-known Sammartini found fame and fortune in London, becoming music master to Augusta, wife of Frederick, Prince of Wales. From his fairly extensive oboe repertoire, Mayer has chosen two other rare works – the above-mentioned Concerto in C from Stockholm and the Concerto in G minor, Op.8 No.5 – describing his music as “full of drama and beauty”. As for Ristori’s Concerto in E flat major, also recorded only once before, Mayer points to the influence of C.P.E. Bach. Ristori will also be an exciting new name to most music-lovers – he would be better known today, perhaps, had many of his scores not been destroyed in Dresden during World War Two.

Mayer is fully convinced of the high artistic worth of all his new discoveries. “After exploring the oboe music of the second half of the eighteenth century for Lost and Found,” he notes, “I was keen to travel further back in time to discover more about the expressive power of the oboe as it was at the beginning of the century, when composers such as Telemann, Vivaldi, Handel, Bach and Scarlatti were conquering the world.” Italy at this point was a highly influential musical centre, its composers and performers renowned far and wide, as reflected in the lives of the composers represented here: Vivaldi ended his life in Vienna, Sammartini in London and Ristori in Dresden (having also spent time in Warsaw and St Petersburg).

Childhood recollections also played a part in shaping Albrecht Mayer’s album, drawing him to the rich sounds and brilliant playing produced by I Musici, whom he remembers as “embodying the Baroque sound of Italy and expressing the innate joy of Italian music”. Fast approaching its seventieth-anniversary season, the twelve-strong string ensemble, which helped pioneer the revival of works by Albinoni, Corelli, Scarlatti and, above all, Vivaldi, remains one of Italy’s finest chamber orchestras. Oboist and band joined forces in the summer of 2014 for concerts in Rome, Munich and at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival. The partnership was reunited to record Tesori d’Italia in Rome this January and they gave concerts together in Osnabrück, Regensburg and Frankfurt at the end of March. They are scheduled to perform a selection of works from their Deutsche Grammophon album as part of a twelve-concert German tour (3 to 17 December 2017), which will open in Wiesbaden and include dates at Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, the Berlin Philharmonie and Munich’s Prinzregententheater. Mayer underlines the importance of moving on from the “monochrome” performances of Baroque works that were once so common. “We have the knowledge now to play this music with freedom, to treat it as a great and colourful picture.”

This year Mayer marks his quarter century as principal oboist with the Berliner Philharmoniker. Since becoming a member of the orchestra in 1992 he has also built an unrivalled solo career, explored the full spectrum of chamber music for oboe and other instruments, and forged close links with a variety of ensembles as soloist and conductor. He is set to continue his association with the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz as resident artist during the 2017-18 season, exploring everything from works by Vivaldi and Marcello to oboe concertos by Haydn and Richard Strauss.

Tesori d’Italia, with its blend of exquisite Baroque melodies and compelling tale of musical detective work, reflects Mayer’s ambition to share his music-making with the largest possible audience. “Tracing the history of these scores has been such a pleasure,” he comments. “And it always fascinates me how, for both composers and performers, travelling through different countries, cultures and periods brings out the different nuances in one’s own voice.”