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Johann Joachim QUANTZ (1697 - 1773): "Flute Concertos"

Mary Oleskiewicz, transverse flute
Concerto Armonico
Dir: Miklós Spányi

rec: Jan 17 - 21, 2011, Diósd, Phoenix Studio
Naxos - 8.573120 (© 2013) (77'36")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc No. 113 in d minor (QV 5,81); Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc No. 123 in a minor (QV 5,238); Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc No. 151 in G (QV 5,165); Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc No. 300 in c minor (QV 5,38)

Erika Petöfi, Gergely Kuklis, Balász Bozzai, Ildikó Hadházy, violin; Tamás Cs. Nagy, viola; Csilla Vályi, cello; László Feriencsik, bassoon; György Schweigert, double bass; Miklós Spányi, harpsichord, fortepiano

The name Johann Joachim Quantz often turns up in programme notes and in books on music history. That has two reasons. Firstly, he was a member of the chapel of Frederik the Great, King of Prussia, which was one of the most important chapels in Europe in the mid-18th century. Secondly, he is the author of a treatise on flute playing, an important source of information about performance practice in his time. Unfortunately, he shares the fate of other theorists - Johann Joachim Quantz, Leopold Mozart - in that for a long time his own oeuvre was almost completely ignored. Some of his flute concertos and flute sonatas have been played over the years, but it is only fairly recently that his oeuvre is seriously explored and has become part of performances of 18th-century repertoire.

The flute was not part of his early musical education. Quantz learned to play string instruments as well as oboe and trumpet. He later studied with Jan Dismas Zelenka, and became acquainted with the concertos by Vivaldi which had a great influence on his development as a composer. His first job was that of an oboist in the Polish chapel of Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. However, he saw few opportunities for further development in this department, and turned to the transverse flute. He studied with Buffardin, the French-born star flautist in the Dresden court chapel. Quantz himself named especially its concert master, Johann Georg Pisendel, as a major source of influence.

Although the oeuvre of Quantz includes music for various instruments and a small number of vocal works, it is dominated by music for flute. The main incentive to write so much for his own instrument was his employer for many years and flute pupil, Frederick the Great. The Prussian king was an avid player of the instrument, often performing flute sonatas and concertos with his own chapel in his private rooms. Quantz composed at least 235 sonatas and more than 300 concertos, of which around 250 have been preserved.

The present disc is an important addition to the catalogue as all the concertos have been recorded here for the first time. That is not all. The Concerto in a minor was thought to be lost, as the manuscript copies disappeared from Berlin during World War II. They were rediscovered by Mary Oleskiewicz in the Russian National Library in St Petersburg. She also found copies of the Concerto in G, this time in the archive of the Berlin Sing-Akademie. Interestingly this copy included two cadenzas for the first and second movements. These have been inserted in this recording. The Concerto in c minor also deserves special notice. This is Quantz's last composition, which he left unfinished. He only wrote the first and second movements. It was then finished by Frederick, himself author of a considerable number of compositions (including 121 flute sonatas), who added a third movement.

The four concertos span the whole of Quantz's career. The Concerto in d minor is the earliest; Ms Oleskiewicz suggests that it was written during the composer's time in Dresden. That is also the case with the Concerto in a minor. The two other concertos are late works. The different time of composition is reflected by the line-up of the instrumental forces involved in the performances. The earlier concertos are played with four violins and one viola, with a harpsichord in the basso continuo. The two later concertos are performed with one instrument per part, which Frederick favoured in his later years, according to Ms Oleskiewicz in her liner-notes. The harpsichord is replaced here by the fortepiano.

This disc is very interesting as it greatly contributes to our knowledge of Quantz and his environment. It is full of good intentions but I find the result rather disappointing. Concerto Armonico is not one of the greatest baroque ensembles around. Its sound is sometimes a bit unpolished and lacks subtlety. One reason that Quantz's music wasn't taken that seriously is the performance practice. Straightforward performances on modern instruments in the 1960s and 70s did little justice to the true character of his compositions. That has changed with the emergence of period instrument performances. However, the playing of Concerto Armonico is often not that much different from what was common in the old days. Dynamically these performances are rather flat, and there is far too little difference between stressed and unstressed notes. The tempi are generally slowish. The Concerto in d minor opens with an allegro e con spirito, but spirited the performance definitely is not. The closing vivace lacks vividness and energy. Mary Oleskiewicz is a fine player of the transverse flute and good researcher, but as an interpreter of these concertos she has not really convinced me.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Mary Oleskiewicz
Concerto Armonico

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