musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Music for chalumeau, basset horn & clarinet

[I] "Terzetti"
Andrįssy Trio

rec: Nov 6 - 8, 2008, Antwerp, AMUZ
Passacaille - 959 (© 2010) (58'49")

[II] "Backofen & Mozart: Theme & Variations"
Jane Booth, basset horna, clarinetb; Eybler Quartet; Max Mandel, violac

rec: Feb 10 - 15, 2010, Toronto, Humbercrest United Church
Analekta - AN 2 9949 (© 2010) (74'44")

[I] anon: Arrangements for 3 basset horns of extracts from Der Spiegel von Arkadien by Franz Xaver Süßmayr (1766-1803); Marcia dell'Opera La Dama soldato (Johann Gottlieb Naumann, 1741-1801), arr for 3 basset horns; Giuseppe DE BLUMENTHAL (1782-1850): Sei Pezzi tirati dalle Opere del Signore Abbate Vogler accommodati per due clarinetti et un corno di bassetto; Georg DRUSCHETZKY (1745-1819): 33 Divertissements for 3 basset horns: No 8 (menuetto), No 11 (menuetto), No 12 (moderato), No 13 (adagio); No 16 (allegro); No 18 (allegro); Christoph GRAUPNER (1683-1760): Ouverture for 3 chalumeaux in C (GWV 401); Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791): Allegro for 3 basset horns (attr); Don Giovanni (KV 527): Lą ci darem la mano, duetto; Vedrai, carino, se sei buonino (arr for 3 basset horns); Le nozze di Figaro (KV 492): Al desio di chi t'adora, rondo; Non pił andrai farfallone amoroso, aria; Voi che sapete, arietta (arr for 3 basset horns)
[II] Johann Georg Heinrich BACKOFEN (1768-1839): Quintet for basset horn, 2 violins, viola and cello in F, op. 9a; Quintet for clarinet, violin, 2 violas and cello in B flat, op. 15bc; Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791): Quintet for clarinet, 2 violins, viola and cello in A (KV 581)b

[I] Melanie Piddocke, Ernst Schlader, Markus Springer, chalumeau, bassethorn, clarinet
[EQ] Julia Wedman, Aisslinn Nosky, violin; Patrick G. Jordan, viola; Margaret Gay, cello

These two discs are devoted to music for instruments which only came into existence in the 18th century: the chalumeau, the basset horn, the basset clarinet and the clarinet. Of these four only the latter would survive; the other three disappeared unter the dust of history. They were brought back to life as part of the emergence of historical performance practice. With time unknown repertoire for these instruments from the second half of the 18th century is discovered. Both discs contain specimens of such repertoire.

The chalumeau is the oldest of the mentioned instruments. It is often considered a predecessor of the clarinet, but historically that is incorrect as for some time they coexisted, as the oeuvre of Antonio Vivaldi shows. It is assumed the chalumeau was developed in the late 17th century, but only in the late baroque composers started to use it. Examples of early compositions with chalumeau can be found in the oeuvre of Vivaldi, but also in Christoph Graupner's who used the chalumeau quite often. It appears in some of his orchestral overture-suites, but the Andrįssy Trio begins its programme with a curiosity, an overture for three chalumeaux without accompaniment. It is in six movements: ouverture, air, menuet, gavotte, sarabande and echo. The chalumeau appears here in three different ranges: alto, tenor and bass.

The basset horn is almost exclusively associated with the classical era, but its origin lies before 1740. It was due to considerable improvements in the shape of the instrument that it became hugely popular in the latest decades of the 18th century, in particular in Austria, southern Germany and Bohemia. Georg Druschetzky was from the latter region and studied the oboe in Dresden. He started his career as a military musician, and ended as music director and composer for the wind octet of Archduke Joseph Anton Johann in Budapest. The largest part of his oeuvre consists of Harmoniemusik. The Andrįssy Trio plays six of his 33 Divertissements for three basset horns. No 16, an allegretto, is a quite humorous piece, whose character is excellently exposed by the performers.

The rest of the programme comprises transcriptions or arrangements of vocal music, in particular from operas. Franz Xaver Süßmayr is mainly known as the one who completed Mozart's Requiem, but his own compositions are hardly known. The archive of the castle of Kląsterec nad Ohri in the Czech Republic contains some arrangements of songs from his Singspiel Der Spiegel von Arkadien. These three pieces are interspersed by a march from an opera by Johann Gottlieb Naumann, the most important musical personality in Dresden between Hasse and Weber, who composed no less than 25 works for the stage. The curious combination of two clarinets and one basset horn is used by Giuseppe de Blumenthal, a noble amateur composer who mainly wrote arrangements of opera melodies. Here six pieces are performed which are based on operas by Georg Joseph Vogler, mostly known as Abbé Vogler. He travelled through Europe, worked in several positions here and there and was a prolific composer who wasn't unanimously appreciated by his peers. But his operas went down well with the audiences, and that explains the arrangements of vocal and instrumental pieces from his operas.

Mozart's operas belonged to the most appreciated, and that is reflected in the large number of arrangements for all kinds of instruments and ensembles. The Andrįssy Trio plays five anonymous arrangements of pieces from Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni, found at the Seisenburg in Austria. These are for three basset horns, and are preceded by an allegro for the same scoring which is attributed to Mozart himself, but whose authenticity isn't established.

This disc is a most interesting and compelling portrait of the music which resulted from the music scene's fascination with the basset horn at the end of the 18th century. The programme is intelligently put together, showing the development in musical taste, both in regard to repertoire and scoring. The Andrįssy Trio delivers technically immaculate and musically enthralling performances. The operatic origins of the various transcriptions are well exposed. The booklet contains interesting liner-notes about the instruments and the music as well as a specification of the instruments used in the recording.

The next disc is a nice complement as it contains three specimens of a particularly popular musical form in the classical era: the quintet. We meet the basset horn again as well as the clarinet in the quintets by Backofen. In Mozart's quintet we hear the basset clarinet, a specific form of the clarinet which disappeared after the turn of the century. It was in particular Anton Stadler who travelled as a player of the basset clarinet and inspired Mozart to compose his famous clarinet music, the quintet, the concerto and the so-called Stadler Trio. As this instrument has disappeared it had to be reconstructed from a drawing which dates from the 1790s. Jane Booth is not the first who performs the quintet with a reconstruction of this particular instrument. It is a good performance, but probably dynamically a bit flat. A little more contrasts here and there had not been amiss.

This disc's main importance is the performance of two quintets by Johann Georg Heinrich Backofen. He studied in Nuremberg and started to travel as a clarinet virtuoso. He wrote a tutor for the clarinet and the basset horn. His two quintets are remarkable for their scoring. The Quintet in F, op. 9 is scored for basset horn, two violins, viola and cello, whereas the Quintet in B flat, op. 15 is for clarinet, violin, two violas and cello. These are very good and interesting quintets of considerable substance, and not without some dramatic traits. Both quintets end - like Mozart's quintet, and very much in line with the fashion of the time - with a theme and variations. They are played with flair and imagination, and the artists convincingly demonstrate that these works are worthwhile additions to the repertoire of classical chamber music.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Jane Booth
Eybler Quartet

CD Reviews