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Franz DANZI (1763 - 1826): "Flute Quartets op. 56"

Ardinghello Ensemble

rec: Oct 8 -10, 2012, Abtei Marienmünster (Konzerthaus)
MDG - 605 1791-2 (© 2013) (59'13")
Liner-notes: E/I/D/F
Cover & track-list

Quartet in D, op. 56,1; Quartet in d minor, op. 56,2; Quartet in F, op. 56,3

Karl Kaiser, transverse flute; Annette Rehberger, violin; Bodo Friedrich, viola; Ursula Kaiser, cello

This disc includes three specimens of what was one of the most popular forms of chamber music for about a century, since the third quarter of the 18th. Especially among the growing numbers of amateurs quartets for a wind instrument and string trio were in high demand. Whereas the string quartet soon developed into a highly sophisticated genre which was intended for professional players, quartets like those played here were usually written for amateurs. That doesn't necessarily mean that they are technically easy; many amateurs had considerable skills. It is especially their diverting character which made them appropriate to be played among friends in salons.

This form also offered the composers various possibilities to explore the features of the instruments and the connections between them. The four instruments could be treated on more or less equal terms. The composer could expose the different features of the wind instrument and the strings by creating a dialogue between them. He also could single out two of them, for instance the wind instrument versus the first violin. These possibilities are all represented in the three quartets presented here.

Franz Danzi was an important figure at the German music scene. He was a son of Innocenz Danzi, a cellist in the famous court orchestra of Mannheim. Franz joined the orchestra at the age of 15 after being taught the keyboard, the cello and singing by his father. When the court moved to Munich in 1778 Danzi remained in Mannheim and studied composition with the famous composer and theorist Georg Joseph 'Abbé' Vogler. In 1784 he went to Munich to succeed his father as principal cellist of the court orchestra. In the next years he travelled across Germany, Bohemia and Italy and in 1798 he was appointed vice-Kapellmeister. In the next years he had to deal with various disappointments, both in his personal and his professional life. In 1807 he moved to Stuttgart and in 1812 he became Kapellmeister in Karlsruhe where he remained for the rest of his life.

Danzi contributed to most genres in vogue in his time. Today he is mainly known for his chamber music, and especially his quintets for wind which often appear in concert programmes alongside those of Reicha. The fact that he was one of the most important opera composers in the German-speaking world is hardly known. In 2012 Frieder Bernius performed his opera Der Berggeist which has recently been released by Carus. This disc sheds light on a lesser-known part of his chamber music: three quartets for flute, violin, viola and cello which were published as his op. 56 in 1821. (Don't let the fact that three wind quintets were printed in 1819-20 with the same opus number confuse you.)

These three quartets are in four movements. They start with a fast movement in sonata form and end with a rondo. They are separated by a slow movement and a menuet with trio. The latter is the second movement in the Quartet in D and the third in the other two quartets. The flute usually takes a leading role, but in various movements and passages the strings are fully involved in the thematic development. In the opening allegro from the Quartet in D we find an example of a dialogue between the flute and the first violin. The larghetto includes daring harmonic progressions as does the opening allegro from the Quartet in F. In both quartets we hear a theme with variations, which often appears in music of a diverting character. In the former quartet it is the last movement - the variations are connected by a repeated ritornello in the strings - and in the latter the andante.

The opening allegretto from the Quartet in d minor includes strong contrasts between the strings and the flute. Here Danzi not only juxtaposes the instruments but also provides them with contrasting material. As Karl Kaiser writes in his liner-notes the quartet "begins in typically dark D-minor mode with a fiery outburst in the strings. In the following sentimental episode, the flute attempts to calm the rebellious mood. The entire first movement consists of these colliding opposites in the manner of a musical drama". Danzi's music show some traits of the emerging romantic idiom. That comes to the fore in the inclusion of elements of folk music, for instance in the trio from the Quartet in d minor and the opening movement from the Quartet in F.

The choice of an instrument for the flute part in early 19th-century music is probably not quite obvious, considering the developments in instrument building and the tendency towards constructing instruments with a more even tone and stronger dynamic possibilities. Karl Kaiser plays a flute with six keys, copied after a French instrument from 1835. It is a beautiful instrument which suits the music well. I have slight doubts about the strings: they are from the 18th century, but I just wonder whether they are all in their original condition. Sometimes they produce a sound which seems a little different from what I am used to hear from other ensembles in music from this period. The dramatic character of the string parts in the opening movement from the Quartet in d minor has not been fully explored.

That said, this is a nice disc with three fine quartets. They are more than just entertaining, and are fit for repeated listening, certainly in these performances.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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