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Georg Christoph WAGENSEIL (1715 - 1777): Concertos

[I] "Concertos for organ"
Elisabeth Ullmann, organ
Piccolo Concerto Wien
Dir: Roberto Sensi
rec: Sept 2002, Rust, Evangelische Kirche
Accent - ACC 24248 (R) (© 2012) (62'27")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Concerto for keyboard, 2 violins and bass No. 2 in C; Concerto for keyboard, 2 violins and bass No. 3 in F; Concerto for keyboard, 2 violins and bass No. 5 in G; Concerto for keyboard, 2 violins and bass No. 6 in A

Source: Six Concertos for the Harpsichord or Organ with Accompanyments for Two Violins and a Bass, c1765

Uli Engel, Johanna Gamerith, violin; Peter Trefflinger, cello; Petra Gamweger, bassoon; Roberto Sensi, violone; Hubert Hoffmann, archlute; Johannes Bogner, harpsichord

[II] "Concerts choisis"
Martin Sandhoff, transverse flutea; Susanne Regel, oboeb; Rainer Johannsen, bassoonc; Florian Deuter, violind; Johanna Seitz, harpe; Alexander Weimann, fortepianof
Echo du Danube
Dir: Alexander Weimann
rec: July 5 - 10, 2007, Cologne, Deutschlandfunk (Kammermusiksaal)
Accent - ACC 24186 (© 2008) (69'01")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in D (WWV 342)a; Concerto for harp/keyboard and strings in F (WWV 281)e; Concerto for oboe, bassoon and orchestra in E flat (WWV 345)bc; Concerto for pianoforte, violin and strings in A (WWV 325)df

Eva Morsbach, Annie Laflamme, transverse flute; Susanne Regel, Eduard Wesley, oboe; Hannes Rux, Almut Rux, trumpet; Ulrich Hübner, Helen MacDougall, horn; Florian Deuter, Monica Waisman, Chloe Meyers, violin; Laura Johnson, viola; Markus Möllenbeck, cello; Christian Zincke, violone; Michael Dücker, theorbo; Alexander Weimann, harpsichord

The times that the music by composers between the baroque era and the classical period is ignored are long past. Even so, there are still many who have largely remained under the radar of modern performers. Georg Christoph Wagenseil is certainly one of them. If I have to believe ArkivMusic only a handful of discs have been exclusively devoted to his music, including the discs to be reviewed here. That is in contradiction with his important position in Vienna in his time.

Here Wagenseil was born and stayed all his life, although during the course of his career he travelled twice to Italy for performances of his operas. In 1739 he was appointed as composer to the imperial court at the recommendation of Johann Joseph Fux who had a high opinion of him. This was shared by many in his time; the number of his compositions which were printed bears witness to that. His operas were performed at Eisenstadt, when Haydn was at the helm of the court chapel, and Mozart played one of his organ concertos and several of his keyboard works in public concerts. Although he composed in most genres in vogue in his time he was first and foremost a keyboard virtuoso and a sought-after teacher. Among his pupils were Leopold Hofmann and Franz Xaver Dussek.

The organ concertos are among his best-known compositions and have been recorded before. Elisabeth Ullmann's recording of four concertos was originally released in 2002 by the Italian label Symphonia. Its reissue on the Accent label is most welcome.

Wagenseil was praised for his keyboard playing, and especially his performances of concertos for keyboard and strings. In 1766 a Viennese publication stated: "Concerti played on the keyboard (Clavier) are usually so thin that one cannot endure it for long. The art of giving a kind of singing quality to the keyboard with the help of the strings is part of Wagenseil's excellence".

These concertos are typical specimen of the galant idiom which was predominant in the decades around 1750. Counterpoint hardly plays a role here; the instrumental ensemble mostly follows the lines of the solo part. It is hard to say how many instruments should be used. Basically two violins and a string bass are enough. Here we hear two string basses, cello and violone, plus a bassoon, an archlute and a harpsichord. That seems questionable, especially the inclusion of a bassoon. A performance as is given here probably reflects the use of such concertos in church rather than in private circles.

As far as the solo part is concerned: although the titlepage of this disc calls these concertos "organ concertos" they are in fact written for any keyboard instrument, and Wagenseil himself may have played them at the harpsichord. The right hand does most of the work. The left hand is largely confined to playing repeated notes or chords, including drum basses which reflects the fashion of the time. The music may be in the galant idiom, but that doesn't make it predictable or superficial. Wagenseil was too good a composer to write music which goes by unnoticed. The slow movements are certainly not without expression, and the fast movements are highly entertaining. This is just delightful music which gives much pleasure to performers and audiences alike. Elisabeth Ullmann is the perfect guide through this repertoire, delivering an imaginative and improvisatory performance. Piccolo Concerto Wien is her congenial partner.

The second disc presents Wagenseil from a different angle. Whereas most of the keyboard concertos are written for amateurs, three of the four works on the programme are definitely beyond their scope and are rather written for highly-skilled professional performers. That goes for the Concerto in D (WWV 342) for transverse flute, strings and bc, and the Concerto in A (WWV 325) for keyboard, violin and strings. These two works are of the same level as the solo concertos by, for instance, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. They both include opportunities for the soloists to show their skills in cadenzas. The double concerto is remarkable for mentioning the fortepiano as an alternative to the harpsichord for the keyboard part. It seems likely that Wagenseil played the harpsichord all his life, and his compositions seldom refer to the fortepiano.

In some cases the harp is mentioned as an alternative to the harpsichord, such as in the Concerto in F (WWV 281), the first of two concertos for harpsichord which, according to the title page, are very well suited to the harp. These concertos were printed in 1761 in Paris, which is not surprising as especially in France the harp became increasingly popular and publishers exploited this by printing collections of music for this instrument. Stylistically it is quite close to the keyboard concertos which are the subject of the first disc. Here the strings - probably with viola, but that isn't indicated in the booklet - mostly follow the organ part. The middle movement, an andante, is somewhat different as here the harp plays long episodes without any participation of the strings. The movement even begins with a solo passage.

The programme opens with the Concerto in E flat (WWV 345) for oboe, bassoon and orchestra. It has been preserved in three different forms: as a Sinfonia, a concerto for bassoon and as the double concerto which is performed here. In her liner-notes Helga Scholz-Michelitsch ranks it among Wagenseil's symphonies, because of the prominent role of the orchestra, which includes horns and trumpets. One probably could also call it a sinfonia concertante. The oboe and bassoon have solo passages, but other instruments also make their appearance. In the first movement the trumpets play a quite prominent role, whereas in the middle movement the two flutes come forward a couple of times; here the brass keeps silent.

The performances are of a high level throughout the programme. The solo parts are brilliantly played, and the orchestral playing is excellent. The cadenzas are well done, without any exaggeration. It is not the skills of the performers which is at the centre. It is rather the music of Wagenseil which is given full attention, and it certainly deserves it. Wagenseil is more than just a composer of galant music.

His music should be more thoroughly explored. These discs make for a perfect start.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Echo du Danube
Piccolo Concerto Wien

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