The German composer Johann Simon Mayr dominated the music scene in northern Italy in the early 1800s. He was the maestro di cappella at the Cathedral of Bergamo and wrote a prodigious amount of music: over 70 operas, 18 masses, and 57 symphonies. Today, he’s best known (if at all) as Gaetano Donizetti’s teacher.

This release features two piano concertos by Mayr. Although primarily an opera and choral composer, he was well skilled in orchestral writing. The concertos follow the late 18th century model of Haydn and Mozart. The three-movement forms are clearly delineated. Mayr’s melodies are tuneful, with memorable motifs to help guide the ear.

Personally, I found them comparable to Mozart’s early concertos in overall quality. Mayr — as befitting a composer of seventy operas — has a gift for melody. The solo piano part may require a lot of technique to play, but it always sounds lyrical.

And that’s what soloist Edna Stern brings out in her performances. Her phrasing makes the music almost sing. Stern makes these concerti sound not only beautiful but personable. Mayr’s music has a natural appeal to begin with, but Stern’s playing completely won me over.

The Gerogisches Kammerorchester Ingolstadt also adds to that attraction. The ensemble has a nice, spacious sound. I was particularly impressed with the recording. These were live performances, but they don’t sound like it. The audiences are exceptionally well-behaved (Like to think they were too enthralled to cough or move around).

This was my first introduction to Johann Simon Mayr’s music. I’m now curious to hear more. Perhaps Maestro Ruben Gazarian and the Gerogisches Kammerorchester Ingolstadt would like to have a go at some of those 57 symphonies?

Franz Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 25 in C major
Johann Simon Mayr: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2
Gerogisches Kammerorchester Ingolstadt;  Ruben Gazarian, conductor
Edna Stern, piano
Ars Produktion 260052
SACD