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Franz Xaver RICHTER & Johann STAMITZ: "Flute Concertos & Trios"

Jana Semerádová, transverse flutea
Ensemble Castor

rec: Feb 14 - 16, 2019, Ried (A), Landesmusikschule
Pan Classics - PC 10406 (© 2019) (79'57")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Franz Xaver RICHTER (1709-1789): Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in e minor; Sonata for two violins and bc in B flat, op. 4,1 [3]; Trio for keyboard, violin and cello in D [1]; Trio for keyboard, violin and cello in g minor [2]

Sources: Franz Xaver Richter, [1] Six Sonatas for the Harpsicord with Accompanyments for a Violin or German Flute and Violoncello, [n.d.]; [2] 6 Sonate da Camera a Cembalo Obligato, Flauto Traverso o Violino Concertato e Violoncello, c1760; [3] A second set of six sonatas, for two violins and a violoncello with a thorough bass for the harpsichord, op. 4, c1765

Petra Samhaber-Eckhardt, Monika Toth, violin; Peter Aigner, viola; Peter Trefflinger, cello; Barbara Fischer, violone; Erich Traxler, harpsichord

The Mannheim School has played a crucial role in music history. Considering its importance, it is rather strange that the figureheads of that school are not that well represented on disc. That includes the two composers who are the subject of the present recording: Johann Stamitz and Franz Xaver Richter.

The name Mannheim School did appear already in the 18th century. Abbé Vogler used the term in 1778, but only to characterise the style of playing of the Mannheim court orchestra. It was not until the 20th century that the name became used with reference to a style of composing. In this respect, one has to think of features like sudden dynamic contrasts, the use of Seufzer (sighs) and the application of crescendoand diminuendo. As far as the latter effects are concerned, the Mannheim orchestra was not the first to use them, nor were the composers working there the first to include them in their compositions. They rather find their origins in Italy, where Niccolň Jommelli used the crescendo for the first time. In one of his letters, the German composer Johann Friedrich Reichardt (1752 - 1814) reported that "when Jommelli caused this to be heard in Rome for the first time, the audience gradually rose from their seats with the crescendo and did not breathe again until the diminuendo, when they first observed that they were out of breath. The last effect I have observed myself in Mannheim."

The fact that this development in music is ascribed to Mannheim, and that the Mannheim school strongly influenced composers of later generations, like Mozart, can be put down to a large extent to the qualities of the Mannheim orchestra. The foundations were laid by Karl Theodor, Elector of Palatinate and Bavaria. The German composer, poet and writer about music Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart (1739-1791) wrote: "Music ewoke the Elector in the morning; it accompanied him at table; it sounded for him at the hunt; he prayed with it at church; it lulled him to sleep at night, and it is to be hoped that in the end it greeted this truly good prince at the gates of heaven". Karl Theodor collected a whole bunch of first rate musicians from all over Europe, like the flautist Johann Baptist Wendling and the oboist Alexander Lebrun in the 1740s, together with some of the best Bohemian horn players, and the cellists Innocenz Danzi and Anton Fils in the 1750s, as well as the composer Ignaz Holzbauer, acting like co-Kapellmeister, working alongside Johann Stamitz, another musician of Bohemian origin, who joined the orchestra as cellist in 1741, and in 1745 was the highest paid musician at the court. In 1750 he received the title of director of instrumental music, a post which was especially created for him.

Franz Xaver Richter, apparently of Moravian descent, had been active in several places until he moved to Mannheim, where in 1746 he was appointed a bass singer. In 1769 he was appointed maître de chapelle in Strasbourg Cathedral; here he remained until his death in 1789. Although the style which was developed in Mannheim manifests itself in Richter's compositions, he is generally considered one of the more conservative composers. That comes especially to the fore in the role of counterpoint in his oeuvre, which is largely absent in the works of his colleagues in Mannheim.

The present disc attests to the differences and the similarities between Stamitz and Richter. The Concerto in G for transverse flute, strings and basso continuo by Stamitz comprises three movements: allegro moderato, adagio, presto. Stamitz avoids harmonic experiments, and includes Seufzer in the opening movement. In the adagio the role of the strings is reduced to give room to the flute to shine, and the closing movement has the form of a rondo. In this recording, Jana Semerádová takes the opportunity to add cadenzas, some of which are quite long.

In comparison, the Concerto in e minor by Richter is more rooted in the style of the baroque period, although it has many traces of the galant idiom. Counterpoint is much more present here, and there is also more differentiation in harmony. In the second movement the first violin here and there takes the role of a soloist, when the flute keeps silent. The last movement is again a rondo.

The remaining pieces are examples of Richter's chamber music. The trio sonata was one of the main genres of baroque chamber music, in which counterpoint plays a major role. That is not any different in Richter's Sonata in B flat for two violins and basso continuo. However, it has little to do with the Corellian model, which was followed by most baroque composers. It is in three movements, and there is no fugue. The opening movement is entirely based on a descending basso ostinato pattern which spans an octave, spreaded over seven bars. The second movement circles around a descending Seufzer figure, which first appears in the second violin and is then taken over by the first violin. Repeated quavers dominate the closing allegro.

The two trios, scored for keyboard, flute or violin and bass, represent a genre which became increasingly popular in the mid-18th century. The scoring suggests that we have to do here with an early form of the piano trio, but that is not entirely true, although it certainly points in that direction. However, the role of the cello is reduced to the enforcement and colouring of the left hand of the harpsichord. It could be omitted without losing anything substantial. Martin Bail, in his liner-notes, sees rather a connection to the sonatas for keyboard and an obbligato melody instrument in the baroque period, such as in the oeuvre of Johann Sebastian Bach. It was pretty common to call such works 'trios', as Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel did, when he wrote to Bach's first biographer, Johann Nikolaus Forkel: "The six harpsichord trios (...) are among the best works of my late beloved father." The right hand of the keyboard and the melody instrument are treated on equal footing, although the former has mostly the initiative. The two trios included here are taken from a two sets of six, published in London in 1759 and c1763 respectively. In these editions the melody part is either for violin or for transverse flute. There are question marks about Richter's own involvement in this publication, and because of that also about the alternative scorings. Here both sonatas are performed with violin, but they have been recorded by Pauliina Fred on the transverse flute (with Heidi Peltoniemi on cello and Aapo Häkkinen on harpsichord; Naxos, 8.572029 and 8.5727030). Stylistically these trios show some similarity with the oeuvre of CPE Bach.

This disc is a major addition to the discography and should convince any music lover that the oeuvres of representatives of the Mannheim school are well worth being investigated. There is still much to be discovered, and it is to be hoped that performers and ensembles are willing to turn to the output of this part of music history. The performances by Jana Semerádová and the Ensemble Castor are the best possible plea for this forgotten repertoire. Semerádová produces a beautiful and often quite strong sound, but can also be quite sensitive in the slow movements. The dynamic differentiation of the orchestra is good, although the term 'orchestra' is less appropriate here, as the Ensemble Castor plays with one instrument per part. This seems the only questionable aspect of these performances. The orchestra in Mannheim was quite large for the time, and I wonder whether a larger orchestra in the solo concertos would have been more in line with the performance practice at the time. On the other hand, the balance between the flute and the strings is just right here.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Jana Semerádová
Ensemble Castor

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