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Chamber music with horn

[I] "Between dungeon and crown - Giovanni Punto and his impact"
Compagnia di Punto
rec: Nov 29 - Dec 18, 2010, Essen, Schloss Borbeck
Coviello Classics - COV 21111 (© 2011) (79'13")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Johannes Andreas AMON (1763-1825): Quintet No. 1 for transverse flute, horn, violin, viola and cello in F, op. 110; Quintet No. 2 for transverse flute, horn, violin, viola and cello in e minor, op. 118; Federigo FIORILLO (1755-1823?), arr Giovanni PUNTO (1746-1803): Quintet for transverse flute, horn, violin, viola and cello in F; Johann Michael METTENLEITER (1791-1859): Quintet for transverse flute, horn, violin, viola and cello in F

Aniie Laflamme, transverse flute; Christian Binde, horn; Adrian Bleyer, violin; Florian Schulte, viola; Alexander Scherf, cello; Roberto Fernandez de Larrinoa, double bass

[II] Antonio ROSETTI (1750 - 1792): "Trovatello"
Compagnia di Punto
rec: Oct 13 - 18, 2012, Cologne, Deutschlandfunk (Kammermusiksaal)
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88765477822 (© 2013) (70'19")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Notturno for 2 transverse flutes, 2 horns and strings in E flat (Murray B27); Quartet for transverse flute/violin, violin, viola and cello in G (Murray D16); Quintet for transverse flute, horn, violin, viola and cello in F (Murray B6) (arr. Giovanni Punto); Sextet for transverse flute, 2 horns, violin, viola and cello in D (Murray B24); Sextet for transverse flute, horn, violin, viola, cello and double bass in E flat (Murray B26)

Annie Laflammer, Gudrun Knop, transverse flute; Christian Binde, Christoph Thelen, horn; Mayumi Hirasaki, violin; Shunske Sato, violin, viola; Florian Schulte, viola; Alexander Scherf, cello; Roberto Fernandez de Larrinoa, double bass

The Compagnia di Punto is a German ensemble which was founded in 2010 with the specific goal of performing quintets in the unusual combination of transverse flute, horn, violin, viola and cello. The inspiration was the composer who gave the ensemble its name: Giovanni Punto, also known as Jan Václav Stich, one of the most famous horn players of his time. Probably in 1799 he published three quintets for this scoring, although at least two of them are arrangements of pieces by other composers. As one may expect, there are not that many works for this specific combination of instruments, and therefore the ensemble can be extended and reduced, dependent on the scoring of the music to be played. That is demonstrated on the second disc which is entirely devoted to one composer, Antonio Rosetti.

There are various connections between these two discs. The first is that several compositions on both can be related to Punto. The collection of three quintets which I already mentioned includes the Quintet in F by Federigo Fiorillo (I) and the Quintet in F by Rosetti (II). Fiorillo was from Braunschweig where his father was Hofkapellmeister. Federigo was educated at the mandolin, the violin and the viola. He stayed for some time in St Petersburg, Poland and Riga and in 1785 he performed at the Concert Spirituel in Paris. He contributed to the then popular genres of the symphonie concertante and the quatuor or quintette concertant in which the first violin has a concertante role. In 1790 he went to London where he played the viola, among others in the orchestra of the German-born impresario and violinist Johann Peter Salomon. The Quintet in F is probably the arrangement of one of his string quartets. It seems likely that Punto made this arrangement for his own use in the first place, and that explains the especially brilliant horn part. The same goes for the Quintet in F by Rosetti which was originally written for wind quintet.

Rosetti is by far the best-known composer represented here. He brings us to the second connection between these two discs: the court in Oettingen-Wallerstein. For most of his life Rosetti was in the service of Count Kraft Ernst, and Johannes Amon was Kapellmeister under his son Ludwig, from 1817 to 1823. Rosetti was one of the many musicians/composers from Bohemia who made a career in various countries in Europe - Punto was also from Bohemia, and they knew each other personally; Rosetti composed a number of horn quartets for Punto. Rosetti's employer was a fanatical lover of music and spent much money on his chapel which brought his principality at the brink of bankruptcy. Rosetti started as a player of the double bass and then gradually improved his standing until he reached the status of concert master. Kraft Ernst married in 1774, but only two years later his wife, princess Marie Thérèse of Thurn und Taxis, died giving birth to a daughter. Kraft Ernst was devastated and fell into a state of melancholy which lasted four years. All those years no music was performed and the orchestra was disbanded. Rosetti stayed at the court and when things turned for the better he became involved in the revival of the orchestra. In 1780 he received permission to travel to Paris, which greatly enhanced his status as one of the leading composers in Europe.

As one would expect Punto's arrangement of Rosetti's wind quintet (in E flat) includes an extended part for the horn. The Quartet in G is one of three which Rosetti composed for the scoring of transverse flute or violin, second violin, viola and cello. However, according to Christian Binde in his liner-notes, only this particular quartet's first part is playable on the flute as in the other quartets its range crosses the tessitura of the flute and includes double stopping. The flute part is quite dominant, and that suggests that these three quartets belong to the category of the quatuor concertant. The two sextets are rather different in character which is mainly due to their different scorings. In the Sextet in D Rosetti juxtaposes the three winds and the three strings which create a kind of orchestral sound when they join each other. The strings have more presence in the Sextet in E flat, which is further enhanced by the inclusion of the double bass. The programme ends with the Notturno in E flat, which belongs to a category without clear definition. Such compositions could have different scorings, and the number of movements could also greatly vary. Here the scoring is for two flutes, two horns and strings.

Johannes Amon fits into this programme not only because of his service at the court of Oettingen-Wallerstein, but also because he was a pupil of Punto. For a number of years the two travelled and played together in Germany, Austria and France. Before entering the service of Prince Ludwig he worked as musical director in Heilbronn. For health reasons he gave up playing the horn, and concentrated on improving his skills at the violin, the viola and the keyboard. The two quintets recorded by Compagnia di Punto date from his years in Wallerstein. Both are in four movements and begin with a fast movement in sonata form. The Quintet No. 2 ends with a theme and variations, a very popular form at the time.

Johann Michael Mettenleiter, who is not included in New Grove, was also active at the court of Wallerstein, first as a lithographer and musician (since 1818), and after the death of Amon he became also conductor of the chapel. The Quintet in F shows the influence of his predecessor.

All the compositions performed on these two discs fall into the category of musical entertainment. Many music lovers today are probably inclined to look at such music with a little disdain, but that seems rather anachronistic. At the time this music was written in huge numbers, and among the composers we find the very best, such as Mozart and Haydn. None of the works performed here may reach the level of their best works, but they still can entertain a modern audience. In my experience the use of period instruments is fundamental in making sure that their character and qualities are fully exposed. Instruments such as the horn and the flute can be rather sugary in music like this, but their 18th-century versions have more colour and differentiation. The bright sound of the transverse flute and the spicy tone of the natural horn do this music a wealth of good. And whereas it is very hard to make a true ensemble of winds and strings with modern instruments, with period instruments that seems hardly problematic at all. The members of the Compagnia di Punto deserve accolades for their interpretations and the creativity in the programming of these two discs. May many more follow.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Compagnia di Punto

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