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Johan Helmich ROMAN (1694 - 1758): "Drottningholmsmusiken - Music for a Royal Wedding"

Ensemble 1700 Lund
Dir: Göran Karlsson

rec: Feb 23 - 26, 2010, Eslöv Kirke
CPO - 777 589-2 (© 2010) (62'12")

Pierre Torwald, Magdalena Nilsson, trumpet; Ursula Paludan Monberg, Thomas Kjelldén, horn; Pernille Petersen, recorder; Cecilia Flodén, transverse flute; Per Bengtsson, Lars Henriksson, oboe, oboe d'amore; Fredrik From, Antina Hugosson, Jens Solgaard, Maria Solgaard Holm, Stefan Lindvall, Hanna Ydmark, Elisabet Enebjörn, violin; Rastko Roknic, Bryndis Bragadottir, viola; Judith Maria Blomsterberg, Thomas Pitt, cello; Moni Fischaleck, bassoon; Mattias Frostenson, double bass; Fredrik Bock, lute, guitar; Göran Karlsson, harpsichord

Johan Helmich Roman is the first Swedish-born composer in history. When he was appointed as violinist in the court orchestra in Stockholm he was just seven years old. From 1715 to 1721 he stayed in London, where he came under the influence of George Frideric Handel. He also met some of the leading Italian composers, like Giovanni Bononcini, Francesco Geminiani and Francesco Maria Veracini. After his return he was appointed deputy master of the chapel and in 1727 leader of the court orchestra.

He played a crucial role in Swedish music history in that he improved the standard of the court orchestra and initiated public concerts in 1731. The 1740s brought considerable changes. He had health problems, his second wife died and his patroness, Queen Ulrike Eleonora, also passed away. In 1743 Adolf Fredrik inherited the throne, and in 1744 he married Lovisa Ulrika, who was a sister of the Prussian King Frederick the Great. She was highly educated, but also a rather unpleasant character. Apparently she didn't appreciate Roman's music very much as in a letter to her brother she referred to him as "a deaf chapel master".

And indeed, Roman struggled with deafness, and in 1745 retired from his position. The Drottningholmsmusique - originally called Bilägers musiquen (Wedding music) - is probably the last major work he wrote. It was composed for the wedding of Adolf Fredrik and Luvisa Ulrika. It consists of 25 movements which were certainly not played in a sequence. It is not known what Luvisa Ulrika thought of this music, but it was probably too conservative for her taste.

The scoring of the various movements - not given in the track-list - is different. The strings are the core of the ensemble, and they are joined by wind instruments: a recorder, a transverse flute, two oboes or oboi d'amore, two trumpets, two horns and a bassoon. The opening allegro - in fact a menuet - is a typical piece for a royal wedding, with trumpets, strings and basso continuo. In the next movement a pair of oboes play colla parte with the strings. This is a feature of most movements: the wind having no independent parts. There are some exceptions: in track 20 - an allegro in form of a menuet - the two horns play solo in the trio section. In the next track, another allegro, the two trumpets and the two horns are involved in a dialogue. That happens again in one episode of track 22: it opens with oboes and strings, then follows an episode with a dialogue of trumpets and horns, first without accompaniment, then supported by the strings. The last six movements have the largest scoring, with oboes, trumpets and horns in various combinations.

Track 24 has the tempo indication of allegro, but is in fact a sequence of fast and slow episodes. As one would expect with wedding music, there are few really slow movements. There are just three: two lentos (tracks 8 and 17) and a grave (track 15). In particular the lento of track 8 is a remarkably expressive piece. Tracks 13 and 14 contain a tempo di minuetto with a trio section. In the menuet the strings are joined by the oboi d'amore, which lend a beautiful dark colour to the ensemble, and in the trio the transverse flute is playing the key role. Lastly, several movements are played with solo strings, like track 3 (two violins and viola) and track 18 (violin and viola).

The whole Drottningholmsmusique is played with a relatively small ensemble: seven violins, two violas, two cellos and double bass, plus wind and basso continuo. There is a reason for this relatively small scoring, as the oboist Per Bengtsson - one of the founders of the Ensemble 1700 Lund - explains in the booklet. He went to Drottningholm Castle to experience the place at which music was originally performed. It was played at the foyer; the musicians were standing behind the statues, and some were hidden high up on the stairs. "It became clear to one that there could not have been too many musicians (the places behind the statues are limited), percussion would have been too loud in the stone foyer, and it is doubtful whether a harpsichord would have been used. For this reason, our lutenist took over the sole continuo role in some movements, and these considerations influenced the size of our orchestra".

That makes a lot of sense. It would have been preferable if the lutenist had played the continuo part in even more movements than he does here. But that is only a minor point of criticism to a highly enjoyable and entertaining recording. This music was not written to be consumed at a stretch, but I have heard the whole disc in one session, and there was no dull moment. That is down to Roman's music which is really good to hear and offers plenty of variety, also because of the various scorings. I also enjoyed the playing of this group which I hadn't heard before, and which I rate highly. The playing is technically immaculate; the players of the natural trumpets and horns are particularly impressive. The vividness and the rhythmic suppleness and flexibility are admirable. This recording could be pretty close to the way the Drottningholmsmusique were played under the direction of the composer himself.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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