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Johann Melchior MOLTER (1696 - 1765: "Orchestral Works"

Hans-Martin Rux, trumpeta; Martin Jopp, violinb
Main-Barockorchester Frankfurt
Dir: Martin Jopp

rec: July 2008, Gießen, Petruskirche
Aeolus - AE10037 (© 2009) (78'12")

Concerto for 2 oboes, bassoon, strings and bc in F (MWV V,14); Concerto for trumpet, strings and bc in D (MWV VI,32)a; Concerto for violin, strings and bc in F (MWV VI,4)b; Overture for 2 oboes, bassoon, strings and bc in C (MWV III,8); Sinfonia for strings and bc in A (MWV VII,41); Sonata grossa for 2 oboes, bassoon, strings and bc in g minor (MWV IV,12)

Johann Melchior Molter is one of the German composers of the 18th century who for a long time has been overshadowed by the likes of Bach and Telemann. That fate he shared with Johann Friedrich Fasch and Christoph Graupner, to mention only two. But now that his music is explored he turns out to be a very interesting composer, just like Fasch and Graupner. This disc testifies to that. If one listens first to the Concerto in F and then to the Sinfonia in A it is hard to believe they are from the pen of one and the same composer. Martin Mezger, in his programme notes, is absolutely right when he states: "These works show Molter at the fashionable height of his time: a composer who tread the path from the High Baroque to the Early Classical Era."

Molter's career can be divided into three phases. Being born in Tiefenort near Eisenach and being first educated by his father who was working as Kantor in his birthplace he entered the service of Margrave Carl Wilhelm of Baden whose residence was in Karlsruhe (as it is called today) in 1717. Only two years later the Margrave sent him to Italy to further his musical education. In Venice and Rome he met the most famous masters of his time, like Vivaldi, Albinoni, the Marcello brothers, Alessandro Scarlatti and Tartini. He returned to Karlsruhe in 1721 where he was appointed Kapellmeister at his court. He was expected to compose vocal and instrumental music, including music for the Margrave's opera. Unfortunately very little of Molter's vocal music has been preserved. When in 1733 the War of the Polish Succession broke out, the Margrave fled to Basle and dismissed his chapel.

Molter then took up the position of Kapellmeister at the court of Duke Wilhelm Heinrich of Saxe-Eisenach which had fallen vacant in 1734. In 1737 Molter travelled to Italy again, and it seems he visited Milan and Naples. Since his last stay the musical fashion in Italy had changed in favour of the more melodious and galant idiom of composers like Pergolesi and Leo. In 1741 Duke Wilhelm Heinrich died and Saxe-Eisenach came into the hands of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, who dismissed the Eisenach chapel. This ended the second stage of Molter's career.

In 1738 Margrave Carl Wilhelm, who had returned to Karlsruhe, died, and when his grandson assumed government he asked Molter to reorganise the chapel. From 1747 on Molter was again in Karlsruhe where he was well paid. He started with a group of 25 singers and players, but was able to extend that number considerably in the next years. This allowed him to compose music in all genres as he could rely on his players who were all virtuosos on their instruments and most of whom played more than one instrument.

The music on this disc reflects the various stages of Molter's career. The last piece on the programme is the Concerto in F (MWV V,14) which is the result of Molter's first visit to Italy. In the fast movements the wind instruments don't really play solo, I was rather reminded of Albinoni's concertos for strings with additional oboe parts. There are a number of passages for the oboes, but they usually play as part of the tutti. But as much as this piece is written in the style of the Italian masters of his time, Molter is his own man, as the second movement shows, which begins with a solo of the bassoon with basso continuo, after which the oboes enter. During this whole movement the strings keep silent.

The programme opens with the Overture in C which is a typical example of the genre of the overture-suite which was modelled after Lully and was hugely popular in Germany. In particular Telemann has written many compositions of this kind. In his Overture Molter juxtaposes the strings and the trio of oboes and bassoon. All movements contain passages for the wind trio, and the trio in the menuet is entirely scored for them. The Overture very likely dates from Molter's time in Eisenach, and so does the Sonata grossa in g minor. The term sonata grossa is invented by Molter, and only he has written pieces like this, which Molter scholar Klaus Häfner describes as a synthesis of sonata, suite and orchestral concerto. In particular the fugue is a beautiful expressive movement which again contains some passages for wind trio. Also the andante is quite remarkable.

The two solo concertos and the sinfonia are from the last stage in Molter's career. The solo concertos remind me of the violin concertos of Tartini. They are melodious and the solo parts are substantial, without virtuosity for virtuosity's sake. In the first movement of the Concerto in D the trumpet is allowed to show its skills, but the second movement is full of lyricism, with a beautiful elaborated solo part. In the last movement the role of the trumpet is limited to short interventions in the tutti. The Concerto in F for violin is of the same kind, with a technically demanding but highly expressive solo part.

The fast movements of the Sinfonia in A are very close to the Sturm und Drang which was one of the features of the Mannheim School. Whether Molter was influenced by it or vice versa, there is a clear similarity between Molter and the style of the Mannheim composers.

From a historical point of view this is a very interesting disc as it shows how the musical aesthetics developed in Germany during the 18th century. More important is the high quality of Molter's music in which he shows much creativity and a wealth of original ideas. This disc proves that he belongs to the same category as his better-known contemporaries like Telemann, Graupner and Fasch. The Main-Barockorchester Frankfurt is an excellent and eloquent advocate of this neglected master. Hans-Martin Rux and Martin Jopp give splendid performances of the solo parts in the concertos.

Until now the main recording of Molter's orchestral music was the disc by Nova Stravaganza. Fortunately there are no overlaps which makes this new recording an even more important addition to the catalogue. Both discs whet the appetite for other pieces from Molter's oeuvre which deserves to be thoroughly explored.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Main-Barockorchester Frankfurt

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