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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791), arr. Franz Heinrich EHRENFRIED (1747 - 1828): Die Zauberflöte, arr for flute quartet

Daniel Fueter, narrator

rec: Nov 2 - 5, 2009, Marthalen (CH), Reformierte Kirche
ORF - CD 3120 (2 CDs) (© 2010) (1.26'42")

Claire Genewein, transverse flute; Plamena Nikitassova, violin; Johannes Fritsch, viola; Reto Cuonz, cello

One of the most popular instruments among the musically educated in the late 18th century was the transverse flute. Numerous pieces were written in which the flute played a central role. This was not only to the advantage of composers, but also of publishers. They were especially interested in music which could find a wide appeal and were technically not too demanding. They not only made use of the popularity of the flute, but also exploited the interest in the large-scale works of the great masters of their time, like Mozart and Haydn. Symphonies, sacred music and operas were arranged for all kinds of ensembles and instruments, like keyboard, two flutes, trios or quartets for various combinations of instruments.

When Mozart's opera Die Zauberflöte was first performed in 1791 it wasn't an immediate success. But with every following performance its appeal increased, and soon it developed into one of his most popular works. Mozart wrote to his wife that "what pleases me most are the approving silences! - you see exactly how much and more and more this opera is gaining ground". This is affirmed by a magazine which in August 1794 called Die Zauberflöte a "goldmine for our music engravers and dealers; for it has appeared in all music shops, either complete or chopped up into single arias and fragments, in keyboard reduction, with or without a vocal part, varied and parodied, printed and hand-written".

The number of arrangements which appeared in the following decades - at least until the mid-19th century - is large. In the seventh edition of the Köchel catalogue they take two full pages, and that list isn't even complete. These arrangements are for a wide variety of scorings. One of the most famous is the one recorded here, by Franz Heinrich Ehrenfried, which was scored for transverse flute, violin, viola and cello. It was published in 1793 by Schott in Mainz. In this city Ehrenfried worked as an oboist, and probably also a flautist. In later years he would publish more arrangements, especially for two flutes, of pieces from various operas of his time. This seems to confirm that he at least had a good knowledge of the transverse flute.

His arrangement of Die Zauberflöte also bears witness of that. His writing is idiomatic, and in his attempt to stay as closely as possible to the original he doesn't avoid those arias which are rather difficult. These are the most demanding movements of Ehrenfried's arrangements, and it is likely amateurs just left them out, as is proven by two contemporary transcriptions in which these movements are omitted. The whole arrangement takes just less than an hour. This set is much longer which is the result of the approach the artists have taken. In her liner-notes Matina Hochreiter writes: "The question remains as to how Ehrenfried's quartet may be received today by the non-performer. In addition to the arrangement for small ensemble, a printed libretto to be read (aloud) in domestic circles facilitated the realisation of a work which at that time was not available on demand via a recording. On this CD the flute quartet is framed by the spoken stage directions from Schikaneder's original libretto."

That was not a very good idea. This may work rather well in a live performance, but not so in a recording. Does one want to hear those spoken texts every time one listens to this arrangement? And as I assume most purchasers of a recording like this are lovers of Mozart's operas they won't need any text to know what the music is about. Moreover, the libretto is easily available from recordings, in books and at the internet. Even so, the inclusion of spoken texts wouldn't be that bad if it would have been possible to programme the CD player to play only the music. But although the largest part of the spoken text is designated to separate tracks, in a number of musical tracks Daniel Fueter speaks through the music. So to a large extent the spoken interruptions are unavoidable. The fact that they obviously are all in German doesn't make it any better for non-German speakers. It would have been a better option to print the spoken text in a booklet, with a translation at least in English. But this set doesn't come with a booklet. The liner-notes - in German, English and French - are printed at the covers of the case. The second disc contains a number of pdf files with the score of Ehrenfried's arrangement as well as the original text by Schikaneder. But that is hardly a compensation, in particular as one has to search to find the spoken fragments, and the text only comes in German.

What about the performance? The four players produce a nice and beautiful sound, they play well and the ensemble is immaculate. But although I prefer their sound to that of Konrad Hünteler, Rainer and Jürgen Kussmaul and Roel Dieltiens, who recorded the same arrangement in 2001 (MDG 311 1138-2), the latter's interpretation is more theatrical and therefore more compelling than this new recording. This, together with the rather unlucky decision to include spoken texts, make me recommend the MDG recording. Only the Mozart diehards and probably also those who understand German will enjoy this new production.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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