Leopold I: Il sagrifizio d’Abramo, Miserere

CD cover Leopold I oratorio

Weser-Renaissance, Manfred Cordes
76:00
cpo 555 113-2

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Leopold I inherited the imperial crown unexpectedly in 1654 on the death of his brother, having been groomed as the second son for a career in the church. He never fully adjusted to his imperial role, relying on a team of advisers and politicians to run the empire, intervening only occasionally when necessary. This had the advantage that while his contemporary Louis XIV (unfortunately labelled Louis IV in the English translation of the notes) engaged in a series of expensive and largely disastrous military adventures, Leopold consistently managed to stay out of these. Instead, Vienna flourished culturally, and Leopold engaged fully in its burgeoning musical life. His surviving compositions suggest a man with more than dilettante musical skills, and this is borne out by his oratorio Il Sagrifizio d’Abramo, remarkably his first attempt at the genre and generally pretty persuasive. In his own lifetime, as here, Leopold’s compositions would have benefited from being performed by the very finest singers and instrumentalists, and Weser-Renaissance give their customary very polished account of this music. His setting of the Miserere for four voices and strings is strikingly impassioned and extremely effective, all the more powerful for its pared-down textures. Weser-Renaissance recorded this CD at the end of their 2015/6 season exploring music composed by and associated with Leopold I, and there is an impressive authority about these performances which reflects the understanding they gained from this approach.

D. James Ross