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Franz Xaver RICHTER (1709 - 1789): "Sinfonias, Sonatas & Oboe Concerto"

Xenia Löffler, oboea
Capricornus Consort Basel
Dir: Peter Barczi

rec: Jan 30 - Feb 2, 2017, Binningen (CH), Katholische Kirche 'Heilig Kreuz'
Christophorus - CHR 77409 (© 2017) (61'25")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in g minora; Sinfonia in g minor; Sinfonia in B flat (VB 59); Sinfonia con fuga in g minor; Sonata in D, op. 3,3 [1]; Sonata in a minor, op. 4,6 [2]

Sources: [1] Six sonates à trois parties concertantes, op. 3, n.d. [2] A second set of six sonatas, for two violins and a violoncello with a thorough bass for the harpsichord, op. 4, c1763

Peter Barczi, Eva Borhi, violin; Matthias Jäggi, viola; Daniel Rosin, cello; Michael Bürgin, violone; Julian Behr, theorbo, guitar; David Blunden, harpsichord

Franz Xaver Richter enjoys a remarkable 'comeback', so to speak, as in recent years several discs with his music have been released. For a long time he shared the fate of many composers from the mid-18th century: they are overlooked as modern performance practice focuses on either the baroque period or the classical era. The composers in between are hard to classify, as far as their style of composing is concerned, in particular because in their oeuvre they often mix traditional and modern elements. That also goes for Richter.

The recordings which have crossed my path in recent years are mostly devoted to sacred music. Although Richter did contribute to almost every genre during his entire career, the sacred music which has been performed and recorded mostly dates from his time as maître de chapelle in Strasbourg Cathedral. Only a couple of months ago I reviewed a recording of his Passion oratorio La deposizione dalla croce di Gesù Cristo, Salvator nostro. That work was performed in Mannheim in 1748. The instrumental music on the present disc also dates from Richter's time there.

Richter had already been active in several places until he moved to Mannheim, where in 1746 he was appointed as a bass singer. Prince-Elector Carl Theodor was an ambitious ruler who saw a musical chapel of highly qualified performers as a way to show off. It resulted in the birth of an orchestra which Charles Burney, who visited Mannheim in 1772, called "an army of generals, equally competent to plan a campaign and to fight it.'' That was well after Richter's time. However, the style which was developed there, known as the Mannheim School, manifests itself in Richter's compositions, although he is generally considered one of the more conservative composers.

The programme opens and closes with two sinfonias, which could be counted among his more traditional works, and which reflect the style of the baroque era. Martin Bail, in his liner-notes, refers for instance to the slow movements which have the character of opera arias: "sweeping cantabile melody lines with extremely reduced accmpaniment (...)". In the Sinfonia in g minor the second movement, andante, includes some rather strong dissonants. Counterpoint, an important part of Richter's compositional style anyway, manifests itself here as well. That is even more the case in one of Richter's best-known instrumental works, the Sinfonia con Fuga in g minor. It comprises two sections: a slow section is followed by a lively fugue in which all kinds of contrapuntal techniques are used. It is comparable with Wilhelm Friedemann's Symphony in d minor.

The trio sonata is a typical baroque genre. It came into existence in the late 17th century and its form was then laid down by Arcangelo Corelli. One of the movements was usually fugal. That is the case in the two trio sonatas recorded here as well, but otherwise these pieces have little in common with the Corellian trio sonata. Ironically this most baroque of all the genres represented here is the most forward-looking. They are in three movements. In the Sonata in a minor, op. 4,6 the fugue is in the last movement, whereas in the Sonata in D, op. 3,3 it is the second. Both include a menuet: in the former sonata it is the second movement, in the latter the last; here it is called grazioso. They point in the direction of the classical menuet and trio pairing. Particularly notable is that the basso continuo is emancipating from its subservient role. "Richter continually departs from the strict separation between melody and accompaniment voices and weaves the lower voice into the compositions as an equal partner" (Bail).

Also on this disc is one of Richter's solo concertos. The Concerto in g minor for oboe, strings and bc follows the Vivaldian model, with three movements. However, stylistically it is not quite baroque anymore. In the first movement the ritornello and the oboe have different thematic material, and the last movement includes traces of the rondo form. The solo part is not particularly demanding, but very attractive, and that makes this concerto a nice addition to the concerto repertoire.

I don't know - and neither the track-list nor the liner-notes inform us - whether these pieces are recorded here for the first time. At least the Sinfonia con fuga has been recorded before; the other pieces could well be world premiere recordings. Anyway, they are little known, and therefore this disc is most welcome, as it once again demonstrates the quality of Richter's oeuvre. It is to be hoped that more from his considerable output will appear on disc. The Capricornus Consort Basel is the perfect advocate for his music. These performances are impressive in every respect. The fast movements are played with panache, without any exaggeration in regard to the tempi. The slow movements are performed with the right amount of pathos. Xenia Löffler is one of the most prominent players of the early oboe and delivers a nice performance of the Concerto in g minor.

There is only one aspect which is quesionable. All these pieces date from Richter's time in Mannheim. I wonder whether it is in line with the performance practice at the Mannheim court that the concerto and the sinfonias are performed here with one instrument per part. The orchestra was certainly not small, and a larger line-up could well be more tenable from a historical point of view.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Xenia Löffler
Capricornus Consort Basel

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