musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Johann Joachim QUANTZ (1697 - 1773): "Flute Sonatas Nos. 272 - 277"

Verena Fischer, transverse flute; Klaus-Dieter Brandt, cello; Léon Berben, harpsichord

rec: Nov 15 - 17, 2006, Nuremberg, Meistersingerhalle (Kleiner Saal)
Naxos - 8.557805 (© 2009) (63'28")

Sonata No 272 in F (QV 1,93); Sonata No 273 in G (QV 1,109); Sonata No 274 in A (QV 1,145); Sonata No 275 in B flat (QV 1,161); Sonata No 276 in c minor (QV 1,18); Sonata No 277 in D (QV 1,42)

Johann Joachim Quantz is mainly known as a flautist as well as being the author of one of the most important treatises of the 18th century. But he was more than just that. He wasn't educated as a flute player from the beginning. One could compare his musical education with that of a German Stadtpfeifer. One of the characteristics of the Stadtpfeifer involved learning to play several instruments. That was also the case with Quantz: he was proficient on most string instruments as well as the oboe and the trumpet, and also learnt to play the keyboard. It was only logical that in 1716 he joined the town band in Dresden.

In the earliest stages of his career he mostly played the oboe. Through various studies he extended his horizon. He studied counterpoint with Jan Dismas Zelenka, and became acquainted with the concertos of Vivaldi, which had a considerable influence on his development as a composer. In 1719 he turned his attention to the transverse flute and started to study with Pierre Gabriel Buffardin, the star flautist of the court orchestra in Dresden. It was the orchestra's violinist Johann Georg Pisendel who had the greatest influence on Quantz, especially in his advocacy of the 'mixed taste' of Italian and French elements.

His meeting with the then Crown Prince Frederick II of Prussia in 1728 was decisive. He made such an impression that he was asked to educate him in playing the flute. When Frederick succeeded his father as king of Prussia, Quantz had to provide him with music for his favoured instrument. The king played frequently, and his appetite for flute music was insatiable. As a result Quantz composed a large quantity of music: about 300 flute concertos, more than 40 trio sonatas, almost 200 solo sonatas as well as solos, duos and trios for flute without accompaniment.

This disc offers six sonatas which have taken a special place in Quantz' oeuvre. A number of his sonatas are in four movements, modelled after the Italian sonata da camera or sonata da chiesa. Other sonatas are in three movements, with the sequence of slow - fast - fast. But these sonatas, also in three movements, are following the order fast - slow - fast. They are assumed to be written around 1750.

The programme notes quote a passage from his treatise Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversière zu spielen (Essay on Instruction for Playing the Transverse Flute) in which he outlines his view on composing: "If a solo is to please everyone it must be arranged so that the inclination of each listener can find nourishment in it. It must be neither entirely cantabile mot entirely lively. Just as each movement must be quite different from the others, so each must have within itself a good mixture of pleasing and brilliant ideas. For even the most beautiful idea can eventually become tiresome if it is not played differently each time, and although constant liveliness or sheer difficulty might be admired, neither is especially moving".

In my view these interpretations don't really live up to Quantz' principles. Yes, the performances are technically brilliant, and musically they are lively and energetic. That sais, they are short on expression and sensitivity. What I find most disappointing is the lack of differentiation in dynamics in the playing of Verena Fischer. She mostly plays forte, and the only dynamic shading is between forte and mezzoforte. Piano passages are hard to find.

The tempi of the fast movements are mostly very fast, which in itself is no problem. But here it leads to a performance which doesn't breathe, and the playing is too straightforward. The slow movements are the most unsatisfying. Take the middle movement of Sonata No 275 in B flat, which has the character indication affettuoso. But the performance is short on Affekt: it just goes on and on, without much variety in dynamics. Despite Quantz’s indications the second movement of the Sonata No 276 in c minor is not very cantabile.

This disc shows that Quantz was a rather good composer; there is no reason to look down on his oeuvre. In that respect this disc is a winner, and nice to listen to. Yet I found it difficult to listen to it at a stretch, as I usually do with review discs. The style of performance tends to become tiresome after a while. A more sensitive interpretation would have done Quantz's sonatas greater justice. My advice is to listen to no more than a couple of these sonatas at a time.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Léon Berben

CD Reviews