musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"The Oboe in Dresden - Sonatas, Trios & Quartets"

Xenia Löfflera, Michael Boschb, oboe; Ernst Schlader, chalumeauc; Václav Luks, hornd; György Farkas, bassoone; Daniel Deuter, violinf, Katharina Litschig, cellog, Michaela Hasselt, harpsichord

rec: Oct 2018, Neumarkt (D), Historischer Reitstadl
Accent - ACC 24361 (© 2019) (78'00")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Concerto for oboe, violin, cello and bc in Bafg; Trio for oboe, violin and bc in g minoraf; Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688-1758): Quartet for two oboes, bassoon and bc in g minor (FWV N,g1)abe; Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783): Concerto for chalumeau, oboe, bassoon and bc in Face; Giovanni Benedetto PLATTI (1697-1763): Sonata for oboe and bc in c minor (I 100)a; Gottfried Heinrich STÖLZEL (1690-1749): Sonata 1 for oboe, violin, horn and bc in g minoradf; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Trio for oboe, violin and bc in g minor (TWV 42,g12)af; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Sonata for oboe and bc in c minor (RV 53)a

Dresden was one of the musical metropoles of Germany during the first half of the 18th century, thanks to the quality of its court chapel. Especially under the leadership of Johann Georg Pisendel, it flourished, partly due to the fact that it had a number of virtuosos in its ranks. Johann Sebastian Bach was envious of the quality of its players, which he could only dream of; in Leipzig musicians often played various instruments, and some of them also sang in cantata performances.

The present disc includes pieces which are part of the library of the former court chapel, now preserved as 'Schrank II' in the Saxon State and University Library in Dresden. It focuses on music with parts for the oboe. Whereas chamber music was usually intended for amateurs, music for oboe was mostly written for professional players, often for specific virtuosos. It does not surprise that music for oboe(s), often including parts for bassoon, was very much in demand in Dresden. By the end of the 1730s, the chapel included four oboists and five bassoonists. Some of them were particularly famous, such as the oboist Johann Christian Richter and the bassoonist Johann Gottfried Böhme. Among the best-known pieces for oboes and bassoon in Dresden are the six sonatas by Jan Dismas Zelenka. He was a member of the chapel, but the composers included here were not.

The programme opens with the Sonata in c minor by Vivaldi. The library of the former chapel is the only source of this piece. Pisendel was a great admirer of Vivaldi's music and had met him in Venice. It seems that this sonata was originally intended for the violin. On the cover, the word 'violino' was replaced by 'oboe'. The original scoring seems to manifest itself in passages which hardly leave the player the time to breathe, for instance in the closing allegro.

Pisendel had close contacts with other German composers as well. He knew several of them from his time in Leipzig. Here he probably met Johann Friedrich Fasch, who for his part became close friends with Georg Philipp Telemann. Pisendel and Telemann also knew each other well, and these contacts explain why compositions of both Fasch and Telemann are included in the library of the court chapel in Dresden. Telemann wrote his Sonata in g minor specifically for Dresden, and he may have intended the violin part for Pisendel. Fasch is represented here with the Quartet in g minor for two oboes, bassoon and basso continuo. Considering the technical challenges of the melody parts, this piece was clearly intended for highly skilled professionals.

Giovanni Benedetto Platti was of Italian birth, but worked for most of his life in Würzburg. He played various instruments, such as the violin and the cello, but was educated at the oboe. In a letter, his employer, Prince-Archbishop Lothar Franz von Schönborn in Würzburg, called him an "incomparable oboist". How the Sonata in c minor came to Dresden may be impossible to say, as Platti seems not to have been an acquaintance of Pisendel. However, unprinted pieces often circulated in hand-written copies. This sonata is one of only two pieces by Platti in the chapel's library; the other is a violin concerto.

Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel ranks among the lesser-known German composers of the baroque era. Today he is probably mainly known for the aria Bist du bei mir, often attributed to Bach. Stölzel had a great reputation as one of the most respected and admired composers of his time. In 1739 he was elected a member of Lorenz Christoph Mizler's Societät der Musikalischen Wissenschaften. Mizler even placed him above Johann Sebastian Bach in his list of leading German composers. He was one of those who contributed to the highly-regarded genre of the quartet, alongside Telemann and Fasch. The scoring of the Sonata in g minor is remarkable: oboe, violin, horn and basso continuo. The horn was almost exclusively played at aristocratic courts, as it was closely connected to the hunt, one of the main occupations of aristocrats. Stölzel worked for most of his life at the court of Sachsen-Gotha. In 2012 CPO released a disc with nine Quadri for the same scoring, eight of which are preserved in Dresden and one in the Brussels Conservatoire Royal. All the pieces on that disc are in the key of F major, so the sonata recorded here must be a different piece.

Another remarkable scoring is featured in the Concerto in F by Johann Adolf Hasse: chalumeau, oboe, bassoon and basso continuo. Hasse was appointed Kapellmeister at the court in 1730, but wrote mainly vocal music, and especially operas. He was the representative of a new generation, that of Bach's sons, and in his time the chalumeau was soon developing into a popular instrument. Telemann and Graupner were two of the composers who regularly wrote parts for chalumeau in their instrumental and vocal works. The Concerto in F is one of only three quartets in Hasse's oeuvre. It is notable - and probably a sign that the chalumeau was not that common at the time he wrote this piece - that the violin can be an alternative to the chalumeau.

Two pieces in the programme have been preserved without the name of the composer. The Concerto in B is scored for oboe, violin, cello and basso continuo. The cello was a relatively new instrument, and that makes its obbligato part in this piece all the more significant. It has been attributed to Telemann, but Bernd Heyder, in his liner-notes, suggests that it could have been written by Antonin Reichenauer, who was strongly influenced by Vivaldi. The Trio in g minor has been preserved in Pisendel's handwriting and could be a composition from his own pen. The fact that the violin dominates in the opening movements and has to play virtuosic figurations during the entire work could well point in that direction. In later movements the oboe gets a more important role to play.

The music library of the Dresden court chapel is a particularly rich source which includes about 1,800 pieces. Many more recordings can be made of the material collected here. It was a nice idea to focus on music for the oboe, which gives Xenia Löffler the possibility to shine, as she has done in so many previous recordings. She is one of the most brilliant and versatile players of the baroque oboe, an "incomparable oboist" indeed. Her tone is pure and her sense of style is second to none. She knows how to explore the features of a piece, and her choices regarding tempo and ornamentation always make sense. She has found congenial partners here. Every one of them brings excellent performances. This is a most enjoyable disc, especially for lovers of the oboe, but certainly not only for them.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Xenia Löffler

CD Reviews