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Johann Joseph FUX (1660 - 1741): Concentus Musico-instrumentalis

Neue Hofkapelle Graz
Dir: Lucia Froihofer, Michael Hell

rec: August 24 - 27 & Sept 9 - 12, 2015, Graz, Theater im Palais
CPO - 777 980-2 (2 CDs) (© 2016) (2.01'34")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Ouverture à 4, 2 violini, viola e basso in C; Ouverture à 4, 2 violini, viola e basso in d minor; Ouverture à 4, 2 violini, viola e basso in F; Ouverture à 6, 2 hautbois, fagotto, 2 violini, viola e basso in g minor; Serenada à 8, 2 trombe, 2 hautbois e fagotto, 2 violini, viola e basso in C; Sinfonia à 2, flauto, hautbois, basso e cembalo in F; Sinfonia à 6, 2 hautbois, fagotto, 2 violini, viola e basso in B flat

Michael Hell, recorder, harpsichord; Jean-François Madeuf, Julian Zimmermann, trumpet; Andreas Helm, Amy Power, Ana Ines Feola, Bettina Simon, Katharina Humpel, oboe; Klaus Hubmann, Ivan Calestani, bassoon; Lucia Froihofer, Zohar Alon, Elisabeth Kröpl, Roswitha Dokalik, Ofir Shner, Marianne Schweitzer, Johanna Kargl, Annegret Hoffmann, Daniela Henzinger, Maria Kaluzhskikh, Fani Vovoni, violin; Sofija Krsteska, violin, viola; Eva Lenger, Barbara Palma, Bernadette Schmutz, viola; Peter Trefflinger, Gabriele Toscani, basse de violon; Georg Kroneis, basse de violon, violone; Dimitri Bondarenko, harpsichord; Gabriel Froihofer, percussion

For a long time Johann Joseph Fux was more or less a 'forgotten' composer. Only a small part of his oeuvre was performed now and then and sometimes recorded. That is all the more surprising considering that from 1715 until his death the held the important position of Hofkapellmeister at the imperial court in Vienna, one of the musical metropoles in Europe from the renaissance until the late 18th century. In the early days of historical performance practice Nikolaus Harnoncourt acted as an advocate of Fux, who was much more than the author of the treatise Gradus ad Parnassum. One of the first discs he recorded for the Telefunken series 'Das alte Werk' included music from the collection Concentus Musico-instrumentalis, which the Neue Hofkapelle Graz recorded complete for CPO. This production is dedicated to Harnoncourt - who at the time of recording was still alive - as he and his wife Alice discussed Fux and his music with the performers in the preparation of this recording.

Fux is often considered rather conservative, but that assessment is at least one-sided. The collection Concentus Musico-instrumentalis was published in 1701. It has the features of music on the brink of the 17th and the 18th centuries. It has some 'old-fashioned' traits, especially the fact that only the Sinfonia in F specifically mentions the harpsichord and includes a figured bass, although only with a few figures. The lack of a figured bass in the other works shows that this collection is rooted in the consort music of the 17th century. On the other hand, Fux is very modern here in that he includes parts for one or two oboes. The oboe was a French invention and only in the last decades of the 17th century it disseminated across Europe, partly due to the fact that the revocation of the Edict of Nantes forced many musicians to leave France.

The most modern piece in the collection is the Sinfonia à 2 in F, which - despite its title - is in fact a trio sonata for recorder, oboe and basso continuo. This could well be the very first piece for that scoring ever written. In 2015 Rudolf Flotzinger published a biography of Fux and he has been able to find out the background of this piece. Prince Joseph I, who was to become Emperor in 1705 and to whom the collection is dedicated, married Princess Wilhelmine Amalie of Brunswick-Lüneburg in February 1699. Flotzinger discovered that the last two movements from the Sinfonia were played during a concert in Tulln of 17 February of that year, "where the prince himself welcomed the bride by playing the flute incognito (and successfully so) during a ceremony he himself had staged. Among other things, Flotzinger explains that the penultimate movement of the Sinfonia, were Fux combines an Aria Italiana in 6/8 metre for recorder with an Aire françoise in alla breve metre for the oboe, not only demonstrates the differences between the French and Italian goût, but also depicts the bridal couple: Joseph, who loved Italian music, plays the flute while Amalie, who had spent several years at the court in Versailles, speaks, dances, thinks and feels in French." This fact could well explain the mixture of French and Italian elements in the collection as a whole. In one piece we often see movements with Italian titles alongside titles in French. The Overture in d minor, for instance, includes an aria, with the character indication 'andante', and a sarabanda, but also a guique, en rondeau. This means that Fux's collection is one of the first which reflects the goûts réunis, which was to become so popular in Central Europe after the turn of the century. In this respect Fux is comparable with Georg Muffat, one of the strongest advocates of the merging of the two styles in the late 17th century.

The collection includes pieces in various forms and scorings. The only surviving copy comprises nine partbooks; that of the viola is incomplete and has been reconstructed for this recording. In the view of Michael Hell the number of partbooks doesn't indicate the number of players. "In those days printed publications generally aimed to cover a wide range of performance circumstances, from grand courts to baroque chambers, and it is equally legitimate to have the works played with one instrument or multiple instruments to a part. We therefore decided to present a very wide range of scorings on our recording." Whether this line of argument holds ground seems to depend on the way the music has been handed over. If we would have nine partbooks as autographs - as in the case of many of Bach's cantatas - it would be safe to say that one instrument to a part would be the most obvious option. In this case we have a copy of a printed edition, which means that the music was offered for performances elsewhere. In that case it was the task of the performers to copy parts, if more than one were needed. We don't know for sure in what line-up Fux performed these pieces. Obviously the Sinfonia à 2 requires only one instruments in each of the upper parts. For the other works various ways of performing are possible. The Overture in C is performed here as a piece of chamber music, with solo strings and harpsichord. The Overture in F and the Overture in d minor are played as orchestral works, with multiple strings; in the former a harpsichord takes part, in the latter it is omitted. On the other hand, in the gavotte from the Overture in d minor a recorder is used as a solo instrument. Considering that this instrument is not part of the scoring I find that decision rather odd. The largest line-up is used for the Overture in g minor and the Serenade in C. In some of the pieces the performers have added percussion. This is not mentioned in the liner-notes, and I don't know what the reason may have been. In all the works in this collection dances play an important role: alongside overtures, arias (or aires), marches and some character pieces we find sarabandes, bourrées, gigues, gavottes and minuets. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that this music was used for dancing. I am not saying that the inclusion of percussion is wrong, but I am rather sceptical about its use.

I already mentioned the inclusion of character pieces. All of them have - significantly - French titles, such as Marches des Ecurieus, La joye des fidels sujets and Les ennemis confus. How these have to be interpreted is a matter of debate; we will probably never know. Klaus Hubmann, in his liner-notes, refers to the fact that his teachers "guided the prince firmly toward a modern, early Enlightenment view of the world (...). Perhaps Fux sought to depict Joseph's open-mindedness in the Libertein [freethinker] in the Sinfonia in F or the madcap Aire la Volage [variable, unsettled] and L'inégalité in the Overture in C, with its many changes of metre and tempo".

This production is the first which includes the complete collection Concentus Musico-instrumentalis. Up until now only some pieces were available, and considering the excellent quality and the variation within this collection this complete recording is most welcome. It is a matter of good fortune that the performances do Fux's compositions full justice, my minor critical remarks notwithstanding. These are very fine performances and this is a set a lover of instrumental music will like to return to regularly. It makes curious about other parts of Fux's large oeuvre, of which still only a very small part has been explored. This production should encourage other ensembles to delve into Fux's legacy.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Neue Hofkapelle Graz

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