The Strad Issue: January 2011
Description: Eighteenth-century harmony exercises that fail to rise above the pedagogical
Musicians: Ionian Quartet
Composer: Mantzaros/Fenaroli

This example of home industry features recordings of music from a selection of manuscripts housed in the Rombotis Archive in Corfu’s Ionian University, performed by the University’s own ensemble. Although Corfu-born Nikolaos Mantzaros (1795–1872) is best known for composing the Greek national anthem, he also wrote numerous other worthy musical works in a variety of genres, as well as some theoretical treatises. Raised on the teaching methods of Fedele Fenaroli, in particular the Italian’s six-volume Partimenti ossia Basso numerato (Naples 1775), Mantzaros disseminated those methods in his own pedagogy. The partimenti and preludes and fugues recorded here are selections of Mantzaros’s fully fledged workings of exercises from the fifth and sixth volumes of Fenaroli’s treatise.

The principal interest here is largely historical, and it is difficult to create much enthusiasm for what is fairly dry, if skilled pedagogical fare. The performances are committed, but uneven in quality; intonation is often questionable, particularly in the middle parts of the texture, and the playing would benefit overall from a greater sense of shape, vitality, control and polish to make what are little more than exercises in harmony and counterpoint sound inspiring and stimulating throughout 42 minutes of listening. The recording is adequate and generally well balanced.