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Gaspard FRITZ (1716 - 1783): "Sinfonias"

La Stagione Frankfurt
Dir: Michael Schneider

rec: March 17 - 19, 2011, Boswil (CH), Alte Kirche
CPO - 777 696-2 (© 2013) (66'22")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list
Parts Sonatas op. 1

Sonata in F, op. 1,5 [1]; Sonata in A, op. 1,6 [1]; Symphony in G, op. 6,3 [2]; Symphony in F, op. 6,5 [2]; Symphony in g minor, op. 6,6 [2]

[1] Sei sonate a quatro stromenti a violino primo, secondo, alto viola, cembalo o violoncello, op. 1, 1742; [2] Sei sinfonie a piu stromenti, op.6, [n.d.]

Karl Kaiser, Leonard Schelb, transverse flute; Ulrich Hübner, Jörg Schulteß, horn; Ingeborg Scheerer, Katrin Ebert, Hongxia Cui, Fan Li, Gudrun Höbold, Zsuzsanna Hodasz, Hajo Bäß, violin; Andreas Gerhardus, Klaus Bundies, viola; Juris Teichmanis, Annette Schneider, cello; Christian Zincke, violone; Marita Schaar, bassoon; Sabine Bauer, harpsichord

One may sometimes wonder why the appreciation of music or performances is so different from one reviewer to the other. There can be various reasons for that, one of them being a difference in taste. It wasn't very different in the past, when there were no such things as a recording. Take Gaspard Fritz, for instance. The English journalist Charles Burney visited him in Geneva in 1770. At his request Fritz played "one of his solos, which, though extremely difficult, was pleasing; and not withstanding his time of life, he still performs with as much spirit as a young man of twenty-five". He adds that "his bowing and expression are admirable". Fritz' playing didn't meet with universal approval, though. When he performed at the Concert Spirituel in Paris in 1756 the reception wasn't overly enthusiastic. This is mostly attributed to his Italian style of playing, but that seems questionable. After all, Italian music was well appreciated by Paris audiences at the time, and the Italian-influenced sonatas by Leclair went down very well with them. Another contemporary stated that his ornamentation was excessive and that he sometimes lost his rhythm.

That said, he certainly was appreciated, both as a composer and as a teacher. Handel assessed his Sonatas op. 1 - two of which are played here - positively, and he was a much sought-after teacher of the English community in Geneva. He received his first lessons from his father Philipp, who was from the German town of Celle and had settled in Geneva as a music teacher. He continued his education with the then famous violinist Giovanni Battista Somis in Turin, and returned to Geneva in 1736/37. He had close connections to the Common Room of Geneva, a group of English residents which organized musical and theatrical performances. The dedications of Fritz' printed works indicate that he moved among the upper echelon of society in Geneva.

This disc includes five compositions from different stages in Fritz's career. They are all called sinfonia in the track-list, but that is not correct as far as the op. 1 is concerned. It is a set of six works which were printed in 1742 in London under the title of Sonate a quattro stromenti, scored for two violins, viola and basso continuo. The use of the word sonata could indicate that they were in the first instance intended as chamber music. However, a performance with more than one instrument per part is certainly legitimate. They are in three movements. The opening movement of the Sonata in A includes some short solo passages for the violin. The slow movements of the two sonatas are quite expressive, reflecting the Empfindsamkeit which was in vogue in the mid-18th century. The opening movement of the Sonata in F has a rather nervous character, another feature of many orchestral works of that time.

The three symphonies from op. 6 are from a much later date. They are likely the set of six symphonies whose publication Fritz announced, when Burney met him. That suggests they were written not before the late 1760s. They are scored for two flutes, two horns, strings and bc. In the Symphonies in G major and in G minor respectively the opening movements are dramatic, due to the treatment of dynamics and an effective use of the horns. The latter's role is different in the opening allegro from the Symphony in F in which they, together with the flutes, introduce a lyrical element in a movement which is full of contrasts. The slow movement of the Symphony in G contains much expression thanks to frequent suspensions and sighing figures. The slow movement from the Symphony in g minor suggests a scene at the countryside, which is depicted by the flutes and the strings playing pizzicato. The Symphony in F is in four movements and includes a menuet and trio. This was not common at the time, but would become standard in the classical era.

There are clear similarities between these symphonies and orchestral works by composers from the Mannheim school. Interestingly, the first symphony from the op. 6 set was published in modern times by Hermann Scherchen, who thought Fritz' symphonies were in some respects more original than those by the Mannheim school. That was based on his assumption that they were written before 1760, but it is now generally assumed that they are of a much later date. At the time of their printing, after 1770, they were less remarkable. Even so, there is every reason to appreciate this recording because these are very fine works which don't deserve to be ignored. La Stagione Frankfurt delivers fine and pleasing performances. Now and then I felt that more could have been made of the score, especially in the string sinfonias. On balance this is a most enjoyable disc, though, and I definitely hope that the remaining pieces from these two sets will appear on disc.

P.S. For those who would like to hear more from Fritz, I would like to mention a recording of the Sonatas op. 2.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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