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Johann Melchior MOLTER (1696 - 1765): Concertos

[I] "Concerti"
Stefanie Kessler, transverse flutea; Georg Siebert, oboeb; Kyrill Rybakovc, Lisa Shklyaverd, clarinet; Kristian Nyquist, harpsichorde
Gottesauer Ensemble
Dir: Dmitri Dichtiar
rec: Nov 26 - 28, 2014, Ettlingen, Asamsaal
Musicaphon - M 56968 (© 2015) (65'10")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Concertino for harpsichord, strings and bc in B flat (MWV IX,29)eg; Concerto for cello, strings and bc in C (MWV VI,7)fh; Concerto for clarinet, strings and bc in D (MWV VI,36)c; Concerto for clarinet, strings and bc in A (MWV VI,41)d; Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in g minor (MWV VI,22)b; Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in G (MWV VI,16)a;

Steffen Hamm, Sang Eun Ju, Gundula Jaene-Wahlg, violin; Wolfgang Wahl, viola; Dmitri Dichtiar (solof), Regina Wilkeh, cello; Matthias Scholz, double bass; Irene Müller-Glasewald, harpsichord

[II] "Concertos for Trumpets & Horns"
Jean-François Madeuf, trumpeta, hornb
Musica Fiorita
Dir: Daniela Dolci
rec: Oct 21 - 25, 2016, Basel, Adullamkapelle
Accent - ACC 24327 (© 2017) (65'04")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto for trumpet, strings and bc No. 1 in D (MWV IV,12)a; Concerto for 2 trumpets, strings and bc No. 3 in D (MWV IV,11)ac; Concerto Pastorale in G; Divertimento in Fbef; Sinfonia in D (MWV VII,71)be; Sonata grossa in D (MWV IV,5)acdgh; Tendrement in Cbef

Henry Moderlakc, Tomohiro Sugimarad, trumpet; Olivier Picon, horne; Christian Leitherer, Ernst Schlader, chalumeauf; Katharina Andres, Priska Comploi, Miriam Jorde, Julia Bauer, oboeg; German Echeverri, Katia Viel, Karoline Echeverri-Klemm, Sara Bagnati, violin; Lola Fernandez, viola; Jonathan Pesek, cello; Marco Lo Cicero, violone; Andrew Burn, bassoon; Juan Sebastian Lima, theorbo; Rafael Bonavita, theorbo, guitar; Joan Boronat Sanz, harpsichord; Daniela Dolci, harpsichord, organ; Hiram Santos, timpanih


If one looks at ArkivMusic under the name of Johann Melchior Molter, one finds a considerable number of works which are available on disc. The concertos for one or more trumpets have received most attention. That said, ensembles from the field of historical performance practice have not treated him very fairly. Over the years only a few recordings of music by Molter have crossed my path. Therefore I am happy to review these two discs which have been released in recent years, and which fortunately are quite different.

Molter's career can be divided into three phases. Being born in Tiefenort near Eisenach and being first educated by his father who was working as Kantor in his birthplace he entered the service of Margrave Carl Wilhelm of Baden whose residence was in Karlsruhe (as it is called today) in 1717. Only two years later the Margrave sent him to Italy to further his musical education. In Venice and Rome he met the most famous masters of his time, such as Vivaldi, Albinoni, the Marcello brothers, Alessandro Scarlatti and Tartini. He returned to Karlsruhe in 1721 where he was appointed Kapellmeister at his court. He was expected to compose vocal and instrumental music, including music for the Margrave's opera. Unfortunately very little of Molter's vocal music has been preserved. When in 1733 the War of the Polish Succession broke out, the Margrave fled to Basle and dismissed his chapel.

Molter then took up the position of Kapellmeister at the court of Duke Wilhelm Heinrich of Saxe-Eisenach which had fallen vacant in 1734. In 1737 Molter travelled to Italy again, and it seems he visited Milan and Naples. Since his last stay the musical fashion in Italy had changed in favour of the more melodious and galant idiom of composers like Pergolesi and Leo. In 1741 Duke Wilhelm Heinrich died and Saxe-Eisenach came into the hands of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, who dismissed the Eisenach chapel. This ended the second stage of Molter's career.

In 1738 Margrave Carl Wilhelm, who had returned to Karlsruhe, died, and when his grandson assumed government he asked Molter to reorganise the chapel. From 1747 on Molter was again in Karlsruhe where he was paid well. He started with a group of 25 singers and players, but was able to extend that number considerably in the next years. This allowed him to compose music in all genres as he could rely on his players who were all virtuosos on their instruments and most of whom played more than one instrument.

New Grove mentions that Molter composed at least 47 concertos for one or several solo instruments, some of which have been lost. From this considerable corpus the Gottesauer Ensemble selected six concertos for a single instrument, strings and basso continuo. In his concertos Molter follows the Vivaldian model: three movements in the order fast - slow - fast. The exception here is the Concertino in B flat for keyboard and strings, which is in two. It is one of several of such works which Molter composed during his second period in Karlsruhe. They reflect the galant idiom of the time; pieces of a concertante character in two movements were frequently composed at the time. Despite the similarity in form of the concertos, the way the solo instrument is treated is not always the same. In some movements the strings open the proceedings, and are later joined by the solo instrument. However, in other movements the latter takes part from the beginning to the end.

The Concerto in C for cello is from Molter's early period and could be one of the first cello concertos written in Germany. Molter was also among the first who composed concertos for the clarinet, inspired by Johann Jacob Hengel, who was a member of his chapel in his second Karlsruhe period, and who not only played the clarinet, but also the transverse flute and the horn. Thomas Seedorf, in his liner-notes, mentions that the Italian word clarinetto is the diminutive of clarino, the name given to the high register of the natural trumpet. "In the early days of the clarinet, the instrument was often 'practised in clarini style', as stated in a comtemporary schoolbook, which means that the high to extreme high range was preferred and the pawns are oriented on those of the trumpet repertoire". The two clarinet concertos included here bear witness to that: Molter prefers to explore the top register of the clarinet and also includes some fanfare figures, which was often part of music for trumpet.

In many cases it is probably impossible to decide when and for which chapel the concertos were written. The clarinet concertos certainly date from Molter's second period in Karlsruhe. Here he had a considerable number of musicians at his disposal, and from that perspective one may wonder whether the line-up of the Gottesauer Ensemble, with one instrument per part, is the most logical option. A larger body of strings may well be more in line with the circumstances at the time. However, this is only a minor issue. I have nothing but praise for the performances of the soloists and the ensemble. This disc is the best possible case for Molter's music, which deserves to be much better known and more frequently played. This disc will give you much pleasure; it is a disc you certainly will return to.

The second disc is just as interesting, even though it includes specimens of a part of Molter's output, which is pretty well-known: concertos for trumpet(s). The Concerto No. 1 in D is particularly virtuosic, and one of its uncommon features is that the trumpet participates in the slow movement, which was highly unusual at the time. In contrast, the two trumpets in the Concerto No. 3 in D and the two horns in the Sinfonia in D keep silent in the respective middle movements.

The programme opens with the Sonata grossa in D, scored for three trumpets, timpani, four oboes, strings and bc. The term sonata grossa was invented by Molter, and only he has written pieces like this, which Molter scholar Klaus Häfner describes as a synthesis of sonata, suite and orchestral concerto. The Sonata grossa in D comprises six movements: adagio, allegro; largo, tempo di gavotta, andante and tempo di menuet. It is followed by the Concerto pastorale in G for strings and bc. It has little to do with Christmas concertos by Italian composers of the 18th century. It comprises five movements; the longest is the second, allegro e larghetto, which has an irresistable rhythm.

This disc also includes two pieces which can be ranked among the first ever written for Harmoniemusik. The Divertimento in F is scored for alto and tenor chalumeau, two horns in F and bassoon. It follows the same structure as the solo concertos. It is rather curious that both Jean-François Madeuf and Ernst Schlader in their respective liner-notes refer to this piece as a Concertino, whereas the track-list calls it a Divertimento. In addition we hear a single piece with the indication Tendrement, scored for alto and tenor chalumeau and two horns in C. There can be little doubt that these pieces date from Molter's second period in Karlsruhe, as do his clarinet concertos. From that angle Madeuf is wrong in calling thr chalumeau a precursor of the clarinet. It is also rather odd that he states that the Tendrement is scored for clarinets, instead of chalumeaus.

This disc is not only interesting in regard to the repertoire, which is played here either for the first time or at least for the first time on period instruments. Some of the readers of this review will probably know what Jean-François Madeuf stands for: the playing of natural trumpets and natural horns without any finger-holes. This leads to a considerably different sound and harmonies, as in particular the Concerto No. 1 in D shows. If one is used to listen to trumpets with (unhistorical) fingerholes, one will probably experience the solo trumpet as being frequently out of tune. It will take some time to get used to it.

In recent years Madeuf has honed his technique and is now the foremost representative of this way of playing. Fortunately he is not on his own; several others now also master this technique, as this disc demonstrates. Like the first disc it is a perfect case for Molter's music. The performances by soloists and the ensemble Musica Fiorita as a whole are of the highest order.

I strongly recommend both discs and hope that they will encourage other performers to explore the oeuvre of Johann Melchior Molter.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Jean-Paul Madeuf
Musica Fiorita

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