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"Musik am Hofe zu Carlsruhe" (Music at the court of Karlsruhe)

Karlsruher Barockorchester
Dir: Kirstin Kares

rec: 31 July - 2 August 2014, Baden-Baden, Rosbaud Studio of SWR
Christophorus - CHR 77391 (© 2015) (63'36")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Sebastian BODINUS (c1700-1759): Sinfonia B flat; Johann Evangelist BRANDL (1760-1837): Symphony in E flat, op. 12 (allegro); Franz DANZI (1763-1826): Overture Turandot; Friedrich Ernst FESCA (1789-1826): Overture in D, op. 41; Johann Philipp KÄFER (1672-1728): Musicalische Bataille (Suite in C); Johann Melchior MOLTER (1696-1765): Symphony in G (MWV VII,125); Friedrich SCHWINDL (1737-1786): Symphony in D

Karlsruhe is the second-largest city in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, north-west of the state's capital Stuttgart, and not far from the German-French border. It is a relatively new city, compared to others with a much longer and richer past. It was founded in 1715 by Karl Wilhelm, Margrave of Baden-Durlach, whose residence was east of the new city. His new residence, called 'Carolsruhe', was originally planned as a hunting and summer residence, but in 1717 the Margrave moved his whole court to Karlsruhe which by 1719 had around 2,000 inhabitants. The Margrave was a great lover of the arts, and this explains why he paid much attention to music at his court. The present disc is a kind of history in sound of music life in Karlsruhe from the early 18th century to the early 19th.

The names of the composers show that Karlsruhe was not one of the major centres of music in Germany. With the exception of Franz Danzi none can be ranked among the best German composers of their time. That should not diminish interest in this recording. Many works written by such composers turn out to be of good quality if they are performed with the instruments and playing techniques of the time.

Johann Philipp Käfer is the least-known figure represented here; he was the first Kapellmeister in Karlsruhe who acted from 1718 to 1722. In the latter year he was dismissed after a conflict over his salary. Relatively little of his oeuvre has been preserved; he composed five operas which are all lost. What remains of his output consists largely of sacred cantatas. The Musicalische Battaille is a programmatic work for four voices and an ensemble of three trumpets, timpani, two horns, two oboes, bassoon, strings, drum, bagpipe and basso continuo in 22 movements. Here we hear a suite of eight movements, including two 'cannon salvos' and a lament of the wounded.

In 1717 Johann Melchior Molter had entered the chapel as a violinist, and in 1722 - after two years in Italy to broaden his horizon - succeeded Käfer as Kapellmeister. He composed a considerable amount of vocal and instrumental music. His oeuvre shows the development from the baroque idiom to the style of the mid-18th century, with strong influences of the Mannheim school, for instance in the Symphony in G. Notable is the inclusion of pairs of flutes and horns which were to become a fixed part of the orchestra from the middle of the 18th century onward. In comparison the Sinfonia in B flat by Sebastian Bodinus is more conservative in style, and scored for strings and basso continuo. His name is mentioned for the first time in 1718 and he seems to have been a member - and later concertmaster - of the chapel with interruptions until his death in 1759. The main part of his oeuvre comprises chamber music; he was one of those who contributed to the genre of the quartet sonata.

Friedrich Schwindl was probably born in Amsterdam and worked in Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. In 1780 he was appointed as Kapellmeister in Karlsruhe, a position he held until his death. His orchestral and chamber music found wide dissemination across Europe and was played at the Concert Spirituel in Paris. The Symphony in D is from 1775 and shows the features of the early classical style. The first movement includes parts for a pair of trumpets. The classical style comes to the fore even more strongly in the Symphony in E flat op. 12 by Johann Evangelist Brandl who was born near Regensburg and was educated as a violinist. He was a member of the chapel from 1806 until his death. Wind instruments play a major role in this symphony from which we hear only the first movement.

Franz Danzi is the best-known name in the programme, and one of the most prominent German composers on the brink of the early romantic style. That aspect certainly comes to the fore in the overture to his Singspiel Turandot in which he evokes the atmosphere of the opera through an alternation of episodes with strings and passages with a prominent role for the winds. Danzi was Kapellmeister from 1812 until his death in 1826. His attempts to improve the quality of the orchestra, criticised as 'mediocre' by Louis Spohr in 1816, largely failed, mainly because of his weak health and his mental problems caused by the death of his wife in 1800. The last name on the programme is Friedrich Ernst Fesca, born in Magdeburg and educated as a violinist. He became first violinist in the court orchestra in 1813 and died in the same year as Danzi. He has become mainly known for his string quartets and quintets. He considered his Overture in D, op. 41 one of his best compositions; it is one of two concert overtures.

This overture is the only work in the programme which has been recorded before. All the other compositions appear here on disc for the first time. That makes this disc an important addition to the catalogue. It includes pieces by some composers who are hardly known. Every work played here is of good quality, proving once again that there is much to discover and enjoy if one looks beyond the oeuvre of those considered the best composers of their time. There is no reason to look down on what is recorded here. It is worth the effort to look for more recordings of music by in particular Molter, Bodinus and Schwindl. Fortunately other ensembles have recorded some other parts of their oeuvre.

I had never heard of the Karlsruher Barockorchester, and this could be their first disc, although it was already founded in 1997. Members of the orchestra are also active in better-known ensembles such as the Freiburger Barockorchester and La Stagione Frankfurt. I have mostly enjoyed these performances. I am especially pleased by the way the latest music - Brandl, Danzi and Fesca - is performed. In the earlier works I have some reservations, and that regards especially the playing of the strings which I sometimes find too smooth, and lacking energy and 'attack'. Stronger dynamic shading and sharper articulations would have made the earlier works come off better.

That doesn't diminish my appreciation for this disc which breaks new ground and fills in some blank spots in the landscape of 18th-century music.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Karlsruher Barockorchester

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