I'll come straight to the point and say that this is a disc that's sure to delight fans of the baroque. If you already know and love the music of the Austrian Johann Joseph Fux, you probably won't need much persuasion beyond stating that this is one of the very finest recordings of his music that I've heard. The performers, the Neue Hofkapelle Graz, are a bright young ensemble bursting with talent, and they do a fabulous job - but more about them in a moment.
"Instrumental music for court, church, opera and chamber" - so runs the disc's subtitle, accurately reflecting this excellent and varied selection of music by the Austrian imperial court composer. So we have two orchestral Overture-suites, one of Fux's favourite formats, to start and finish the programme, and in between these are two opera sinfonia-intradas, three 'da chiesa' orchestral pieces and a Sonata for three solo violins - this latter a very fine work alternating robust counterpoint with expressive grace and tenderness, played here with both vigour and delicacy by the three soloists (tracks 9-13). The richly scored Intrada from the opera 'Pulcheria' (of which I know nothing else) is a bright, colourful work, again full of contrasts, with a lovely trumpet part that's carried off here with assured panache by Thomas Leitner on a fine-sounding baroque instrument (track 8).
The two overture-suites are both splendid works, the woodwind-rich scoring of the second (tracks 17-22) sounding especially fine on the period instruments of this talented ensemble. Judging from their photo in the booklet, they look to be an engaging and cheerful bunch - and rightly cheerful, I would say, firstly because they've made a thoroughly enjoyable choice of pieces here none of which, as far as I can tell, has been recorded before; and secondly because they are an excellent and stylish group with a clear and distinctive corporate idea of how to play baroque music. In fact they remind me a little of the approach of Harnoncourt's Concentus Musicus Wien to Fux's work in their elegant, fluid phrasing and their eloquent response to the music's rhetorical content - and that's certainly a compliment as far as I'm concerned. Their playing is spirited and graceful and their instruments produce a lovely, well balanced sound that's further enhanced by a fine recording. Joint direction of the ensemble is by Lucia Froihofer (violin) and Michael Hell (keyboard), and they both clearly do an excellent job. Booklet notes are good on composer, music and background.
At the time of writing the Neue Hofkapelle Graz are a recently-formed group, this is their first recording and in my view it's a brilliant success. Fux has long been one of my favourite baroque composers, and now he's all the more so after hearing this lovely disc. Just one thing, though - 55 minutes isn't all that generous for a CD, is it, so how about a bit more music next time? After all, there's plenty more Fux still waiting to be recorded and enjoyed. In any case, I hope we'll be hearing plenty more from this outstanding early-music ensemble.