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Franz Xaver RICHTER (1709 - 1789): "Sonatas for Flute, Harpsichord and Cello - 2"

Pauliina Fred, transverse flutea; Aapo Häkkinen, harpsichord; Heidi Peltoniemi, cellob

rec: Oct 26 - 28, 2009, Karjaa, Pyhän Katariinan Kirkko
Naxos - 8.572030 (© 2011) (61'50")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Andante in F; Praeludium in C; Sonata IV in Cab; Sonata V in Fab; Sonata VI in g minorab

In the mid-18th century the court orchestra of Mannheim was considered one of the best in Europe. The British music historian Charles Burney called it an "army of generals". Franz Xaver Richter was working there for more than 20 years, from 1746 to 1769. It is sometimes assumed that he was a violinist in the orchestra, but there is no documentary evidence of this. He was a bass and appeared in some opera productions. He largely concentrated on performances of religious music, though, and that was also his main interest as a composer. Up until now this part of his output has hardly received attention. Some time ago I have reviewed a recording of two religious works, but otherwise it is mostly his chamber music and his symphonies that have been recorded. Aapo Häkkinen did so himself with his Helsinki Baroque Orchestra on two discs with symphonies (Naxos 8.557818 and 8.570597).

In 1759 and 1763 twelve sonatas for keyboard with accompaniment of transverse flute or violin were printed in London in two volumes. Because of the idiomatic writing for the violin (for instance multiple stopping) the two treble instruments are not interchangeable. The six sonatas which were intended for the flute were then printed as such again in 1764, although the violin was mentioned as an alternative. With this edition the publisher no doubt was inspired by the large demand from amateur flautists. In the title the keyboard is mentioned first, as is so often the case with chamber music from the third quarter of the 18th century. The original title of the two editions of 1759 and 1763 mentioned the violin and flute as accompaniment of the harpsichord. In the 1764 edition there is no mention of accompaniment. The harpsichord and the flute are largely equal partners, although the flute sometimes follows the right hand of the keyboard. The cello has an subordinate role, mostly supporting the left hand of the keyboard.

Although Richter was a representative of the Mannheim school and his symphonies bear the traces of the style which had been developed by the members of the court orchestra, in particular Johann Stamitz, he was more conservative than his colleagues. He didn't like virtuosity as an end in itself and in his compositions counterpoint still plays a considerable role. In his liner-notes Allan Badley points out that in Richter's music we find a mixture of old and new elements. Among the latter are the influences of the Empfindsamkeit which we know from, for instance, the chamber music of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. On this disc it is in particular the Sonata V in F which bears witness to that. The first and second movement, moderato and larghetto respectively, contain some twists and turns we also find in the music of the Hamburg Bach, for instance in sudden pauses in the larghetto.

This disc includes the three last sonatas from the collection of 1764; unfortunately I haven't heard the first. Aapo Häkkinen plays with zest and imagination, using a copy of a large instrument built in 1760 by Johann Adolph Hass. What is particularly interesting is the presence of a 16' stop. It is still not quite clear how common instruments with a 16' stop in the 18th century were, and when they were used. Häkkinen uses it in the closing movements of all three sonatas. I don't see the need for it, and I find it a bit too stereotypical. Oddly enough the harpsichord seems to lose some of its penetration in the descant if the 16' stop is used. Especially in the closing movements the balance is too much in favour of the flute. Overall the harpsichord should have received more prominence. Pauliina Fred gives a fine account of her part, playing with great sensitivity in the slow movements. Heidi Peltoniemi may have a minor part to play, she makes herself audible at several moments, and certainly contributes to the general positive impression of this disc.

The programme is rounded off with the only extant keyboard pieces by Richter. It isn't quite clear why he composed them. Badley suggests the Praeludium in C could have been originally intended for the organ. The Andante in F could have been composed for teaching purposes. Whatever the truth may be, these are two nice pieces. The prelude has a clear improvisatory character which comes well off in Häkkinen's performance.

Häkkinen and his colleagues have done us a great favour by bringing these sonatas to our attention.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Aapo Häkkinen

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