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"Fiery and Sublime - The Sources of Quantz's Inspiration"

La Ricordanza

rec: Feb 12 - 14, 2010, Abtei Marienmünster, ehem. Ackerhaus
MDG - 603 1644-2 (© 2010) (78'05")

Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788): Sonata for transverse flute, violin and bc in A (Wq 146 / H 570)bcfh; Michel BLAVET (1700-1768): Concerto à 4 for transverse flute, 2 violins and bc in a minorbcdfgh; Johann Gottlieb GRAUN (1702-1771): Concerto for recorder, 2 violins and bc in Facdfgh; Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764): Trio for transverse flute/violin, viola da gamba and bc in D, [op. 2],8aefh [1]; Johann Joachim QUANTZ (1697-1773): Concerto à 5 for transverse flute, strings and bc in D (QV 5,45)bcdefgh; Sonata for recorder, transverse flute and bc in C (QV 2,Anh 3)abfh;

Sources: [1] Jean-Marie Leclair, Second livre de sonates, c1728

Annette Berryman, recordera; Brian Berryman, transverse fluteb; Christoph Heidemannc, Katharina Huche-Kohnd, violin; Bettina Ihrig, violae; Dorothée Palm, cellof; Barbara Hofmann, violoneg; Zvi Meniker, harpsichordh

Johann Joachim Quantz doesn't have a particular good reputation as a composer. Too often his music is considered rather dull and predictable. The fact that he composed most of his music for Frederick the Great of Prussia, whose rather conservative taste in music is well documented, doesn't help. The large number of concertos and sonatas he wrote doesn't help either. But the impression music makes partly depends on the way it is performed. If performed really well Quantz's music is much better than many think. This disc bears witness to that.

The programme opens with the recently discovered Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in D. One wonders whether this concerto was intended for Frederick as the solo part is technically very demanding. If it is we must conclude that the Prussian king was a very accomplished player of the flute. Interesting is the use of muted strings in the last movement - this was quite common in slow movements of solo concertos but rather rare in fast movements. The other piece by Quantz is rather well-known, the Sonata in C which is scored for recorder, transverse flute and bc. This piece is in the appendix of the catalogue of Quantz's works because some scholars doubt if it is written by Quantz. The reasons are that the recorder doesn't play a significant role in Quantz's oeuvre and stylistically this piece is close to the style of Telemann. That in itself seems no reason to dismiss it as a composition by Quantz. There are compositions by other composers as well which have similarity with pieces by Telemann, who was greatly admired by many of his colleagues. And the recorder may have been in decline around 1750, it certainly wasn't gone completely as the Concerto in F by Johann Gottlieb Graun shows.

Graun was very much a representative of the galant style, and this concerto testifies to that. The fact that the recorder is accompanied by two violins and there is no part for the viola is an indication that it should be played with one instrument per part. It belongs to the category of the concerto da camera which we know from the oeuvre of Vivaldi. The same goes for the Concerto in a minor by Michel Blavet which is the only solo concerto from his pen which has survived. He was a brilliant flautist, who unfortunately seems to have composed rather little. The solo concerto was very much an Italian phenomenon, and this work's fast movements testify that. In particular the last movement is a brilliant piece, a typical show-stopper. The middle movement represents the only French element, consisting of a pair of gavottes.

Blavet was one of the composers Quantz met during his travels. That is the central theme of this disc: how Quantz was influenced by various composers in Europe. In his liner-notes Brian Berryman suggests Quantz could have become acquainted with Leclair when he visited Turin in 1726, where Leclair was also staying at the time. That explains the inclusion of a piece by him in this programme. But the choice of the Sonata in D, op. 2,8 is not the most logical. It is in particular in his later books with sonatas that the influence of his Italian experiences come to the fore. The scoring of the sonata in this performance is also rather odd. This sonata is the only one with a trio texture in the second book which further consists of sonatas for one instrument and bc. Leclair has indicated the flute or the violin for the first solo part and the viola da gamba for the second. The recorder may be a less plausible scoring for the former, but the viola for the second is even stranger as it didn't play any significant role in French music.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach couldn't fail in a programme of music around Johann Joachim Quantz. For some time they were colleagues at the court of Frederick the Great, but the appreciation from the King was quite different. Quantz was Frederick's favourite composer but Bach's preference for the modern fashions and the general unpredictability of his compositions didn't go down that well with the monarch. For Bach it was a relief when he had the chance to move to Hamburg with its up-to-date musical climate and its openness to the newest trends.

It is interesting to know which composers Quantz met and who may have influenced him. It is a little disappointing that they are only mentioned in the liner-notes but the exact nature of the influence is mostly left untouched. One could also argue that it is a bit odd to choose pieces which don't belong to the most characteristic of the various composers. That is the case with Quantz himself: as good as the Sonata in C is, a sonata for flute and bc would have been a much better example of Quantz's style. Moreover, this sonata has been recorded before, and so have the sonatas by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Leclair. From that angle a more original choice would have been preferable.

That said, we get very fine performances here. All participants play with vigour and imagination, and the slow and expressive movements are performed with the sensitivity the music from this period requires. As a whole this disc is compelling and musically entirely convincing. That is an ample compensation for what could be considered shortcomings in the programming department.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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