musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Carl Friedrich ABEL, Christian Ernst GRAF, Carl STAMITZ: Cello Concertos & Symphonies

[I] Christian Ernst GRAF, Carl Friedrich ABEL: "Cello Concertos and Sinfonias"
Klaus-Dieter Brandt, celloa
L'arpa festante

rec: May 2009, Eichenzell, Schloss Fasenerie
Ars Produktion - ARS 38 068 (© 2010) (74'38")

[II] Carl STAMITZ (1745 - 1801): "Four Symphonies"
l'arte del mondo
Dir: Werner Ehrhardt

rec: [no date], Leverkusen, Bayer Kulturhaus
CPO - 777 526-2 (© 2010) (59'04")

[I] Carl Friedrich ABEL (1723-1787): Concerto for cello and orchestra in C (WKO 60)a; Christian Ernst GRAF (1723-1804): Concerto for cello and orchestra No 1 in Da; Concerto for cello and orchestra No 2 in Db; Sinfonia I in D, op. 14,1; Sinfonia III

[II] Carl STAMITZ: Symphony in e minor, op. 15,2 (Kai 23); Symphony in d minor, op. 15,3 (Kai 24); Symphony in E flat (Kai 38); Symphony in F 'La chasse' (Kai 34)

Reviewing discs with music by Christian Ernst Graf and Carl Stamitz in one article makes sense. They were not only contemporaries, both also worked in The Hague for some time. Stamitz was there from 1780 to 1784 and performed many times as soloists at the viola. Graf was the director of the court chapel and composer to the stadholder Willem V since 1786 until his retirement in 1790.

Graf was born as one of the six sons of Johann Graf, who was Kapellmeister at the court in Rudolstadt, and was highly esteemed by Georg Philipp Telemann. When he died in 1750 it was not Christian Ernst, but rather Georg Gebel, concertmaster and Vicekapellmeister since 1746 who was appointed his successor. Probably because of his disappointment Graf, who was a violinist in the court chapel, took unauthorised leave, and took several instruments of the chapel with him. He was expelled from the court which had a negative effect on any attempts to find employment elsewhere. He travelled to Amsterdam, spent several years in the south-eastern city Middelburg where he directed the Collegium Musicum from 1752 to 1754. He then went to The Hague, where in 1757/58 he became court composer to stadholder Willem V and his wife, Princess Anne of Hanover. In 1768 he was promoted to the position of maître de chapelle.

In the next years he wrote a large number of compositions which were published in The Hague, then an international centre of music printing. Among these are many symphonies as well as chamber music and keyboard works. One of his compositions is a curiosity: a concerto for six drums and orchestra. The work-list in New Grove mentions one cello concerto, but the key isn't given. In his liner-notes Axel Schröter mentions the fact that the catalogue of 1771 of the music publisher Breitkopf & Härtel lists five cello concertos by Graf. The two concertos recorded here were only recently discovered. The Concerto No 2 in D is a full-blooded classical concerto, with a highly virtuosic solo part. This is emphasized by Klaus-Dieter Brandt in his equally virtuosic and exuberant cadenzas. The Concerto No 1 in D is a little more moderate in size and technical requirements, but even so a very fine addition to the catalogue of cello concertos. That also goes for the Concerto for cello and orchestra in C by Carl Friedrich Abel.

Abel was educated on the viola da gamba and can be considered one of the last gamba virtuosos in history until the rediscovery of this instrument in the 20th century. He has become mainly known as one of the directors of the Bach-Abel concerts in London, alongside Johann Christian Bach. His concerto was written shortly before he visited his homeland in 1780, probably for some virtuoso who participated in the Bach-Abel concerts. Like Graf's Concerto No 2 this piece has a brilliant and technically demanding solo part. Especially noteworthy are the parts for two horns which get a prominent role in the second and third movements.

The disc is rounded off with two of Graf's symphonies. Unfortunately the track-list doesn't give the keys or an opus number. Searching on the internet I found out that one of them is the first from the opus 14. The other symphony I wasn't able to identify. The programme notes also keep silent about the symphonies. The performances are first-class. Klaus-Dieter Brandt delivers impressive and engaging accounts of the solo parts in the cello concertos. He makes clear that these three concertos should be part of the standard repertoire of cellists as far as music from the 18th century is concerned. The playing of L'arpa festante is equally praiseworthy. The ensemble is imaculate, the fast movements are performed with fervour, whereas the slow movements are sensitively shaped.

Carl Stamitz was the eldest son of Johann Stamitz, who is considered the founder of the so-called Mannheim School. During the 1740s Carl Theodor, Elector of the Palatinate, attracted some of the best musicians of the time, like the composer Franz Xaver Richter, the flautist Johann Baptist Wendling and the oboist Alexander Lebrun. Johann Stamitz, a violinist, also entered his service, and he was responsible not only for the development of the court orchestra into one of the best of Europe, but also in the establishment of a particular style, one of whose features was the crescendo. This wasn't a completely new phenomenon, but - as Robert Donington writes in the article on crescendo in New Grove - "the particular problem solved by the Mannheim orchestra, according to J.F. Reichardt (Ueber die Pflichten des Ripien-Violinisten, 1776), was to develop an ensemble capable of graduating dynamics with the sensitivity and accuracy of a soloist." In order to achieve that a great amount of uniformity and accuracy of playing in the orchestra was needed. And that was achieved in Mannheim thanks to Johann Stamitz. Carl received his early musical education from his father and entered the orchestra himself in 1761. Nine years later he left Mannheim and travelled through Europe as a virtuoso on the violin, the viola and the viola d'amore. In many countries and cities he performed, and only in some he remained for a longer time. One of them was The Hague, as mentioned before, another Paris, where he and his brother Anton regularly performed at the Concert Spirituel.

The symphonies which l'arte del mondo has recorded have all been performed during the concerts the Concert Spirituel organized. It is impossible to put an exact date on their composition, but in his liner-notes Olaf Krone mentions the years when their publication was announced in the Parisian newspapers. These symphonies have three features in common. Firstly, as mentioned, the use of crescendi (and diminuendi) which are responsible for the sometimes big dynamic contrasts. These are enforced by the wind - and this is a second feature which needs to be mentioned. In the baroque era the 'orchestra' - which was often not more than a chamber ensemble - mostly consisted of strings and basso continuo. Only when needed one or two wind instruments were added. In Mannheim wind instruments became a fixed part of the orchestra. In the four symphonies at this disc the strings are joined by two horns, whereas in some two transverse flutes (Symphony in e minor), two oboes (Symphonies in d minor and in E flat) or two clarinets (Symphony in F). The third element which is part of the style of the mid-18th century is the attention paid to melody. That is in particular obvious in the slow movements of these symphonies.

In regard to the individual symphonies a couple of points need to be made. Although only the last movement of the Symphony in F has the description 'La Chasse', the first movement also contains elements which refer to this title, like hunting horn fanfares. In this symphony the horns and the clarinets play a key role in representing the hunt. The Symphony in d minor, op. 15,3 contains some short solo episodes for the viola. The Symphony in e minor, op. 15,2 is the only symphony on this disc which is in four movements, the third being a menuet with a trio.

Olaf Krone states that the negligence of Carl Stamitz' oeuvre is partly due to the harsh judgement of the composer by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He adds that this judgement is unfair, and the symphonies on this disc back him up. These are just wonderful and imaginative pieces, and one can understand that music like this caused some excitement. The new and innovative character of these specimens of the music of the Mannheim School is emphasized by the playing of l'arte del mondo. The dynamic contrasts are explored to the full, the melodies come off very well, and the wind players are doing a great job. The playing may have some rough edges, but that serves these symphonies rather well. This disc should lead to a reassessment of Carl Stamitz as a composer of orchestral music.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

l'arte del mondo

CD Reviews