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Jean Gaspard WEISS (1739 - 1815): "Töne von meiner Flöten" (Sounds from my flute)

Antichi Strumenti

rec: Oct 29 - 31, 2011, Eupilio (LC), Chiesa di S. Lorenzo
Stradivarius - Str 33916 (© 2012) (69'39")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Prelude No. 2 for transverse flute [transverse flute, violin] in c minorab; Quartet for transverse flute, violin, tenor and bass in F, op. 4,4abcde; Solo No. 5 for transverse flute [cello] in Gd; Solo No. 6 for transverse flute in d minora; Solo No. 15 for transverse flute [cello] in Dd; Solo for transverse flute and bass in d minor, op. 3,5ade; Solo for transverse flute and bass in G, op. 3,6ade; Trio for transverse flute, violin and bass in D, op. 2,6abde; Trio for transverse flute, violin and cello in E flat, op. 1,4abde

François Nicolet, transverse flutea; Laura Toffetti, violinb; Claudia Monti, violac; Tobias Bonz, cellod; Francis Jacob, harpsichorde

The second half of the 18th century is the time of the middle class playing music in domestic surroundings, either in the privacy of their homes or in social gatherings. It was also the time the phenomenon of the public concert disseminated. Some concert series were quite famous, such as the Concert Spirituel in France, the Freitagsakademie in Berlin and the Bach-Abel concerts in London. These concerts offered an opportunity to travelling virtuosos to show their skills. Some of the best musicians of the time participated in the concerts which Johann Christian Bach and Carl Friedrich Abel organised in London. One of them was Jean Gaspard Weiss, who is the subject of the present disc.

He has no entry in New Grove which is a little surprising, considering his role in musical life in London in the 1770s, where some of his collections of music were printed. For the biographical information about Weiss we have to rely on the liner-notes by Tobias Bonz, who also published Weiss's autobiography. This gives much information about his life but also about the artistic climate and performance practice in his time. Weiss was born in Mulhouse in the Elsace and received his musical education in Basel and Bern. For some time he lived in Geneva. Here he became acquainted with Willoughby Bertie, known as Lord Abingdon. He was a lover of the flute and was to become Weiss's patron and pupil. He would also become a patron of the Bach-Abel concerts and in the 1790s he sponsored Haydn's visits to London. He composed some music and inspired others to write music for him, as is demonstrated by a recording of Wilbert Hazelzet and Marion Moonen, "Destination London".

In 1767 Lord Abingdon returned to London, and Weiss accompanied him. He settled in the English capital and became acquainted with the leading figures at the music scene. Until his departure in 1783 he played together in public concerts with the likes of Wilhelm and Johann Baptist Cramer, Jean-Louis Duport, Johann Peter Salomon and Friedrich Hartman Graf. With his musical activities he earned a sizeable fortune which he, after his return to Mulhouse in 1783, invested in the rapidly expanding textile industry. As Bonz rightly observes, "[he] thus succeeded in avoiding poverty, which was widespread among his fellow musicians at an advanced age".

It is quite possible that Weiss has written some music for Lord Abingdon who was a flautist of no mean capability as the above-mentioned disc shows. The music on this disc is taken from three collections which were printed in London and bear witness to the popularity of the flute among amateurs. The sonatas, trios and quartets are written in the galant idiom and are reminiscent of the chamber music of Johann Christian Bach. Many of Weiss's pieces are in two movements, according to Bonz, but the works chosen for this disc are mostly in three. The exception is the Solo in d minor which comprises an allegro moderato and a tempo di minuetto. The latter includes some dark streaks, which is quite unusual in music written for entertainment. The Quartet in F ends with an andantino which is a theme with variations, a very popular form in music of this time.

The fact that Weiss's music is written for amateurs indicates that it is technically not too demanding. However, it is very fine music and entertaining indeed. That is emphasized by the performance which does full justice to the character of these pieces. The artists don't try to give more weight to this repertoire; that is always counterproductive. The accompaniment of the flute in the adagio from the Solo in G seems questionable: the cello plays pizzicato and the harpsichordist only plays with the right hand.

Weiss's sons followed in his footsteps, and for them he composed a number of preludes which were printed in Milan in 1816. Four of these have been included here. Three have been arranged, two for cello and one for flute and violin. Historically speaking there is mostly no objection against arrangements, but in this case I find that decision rather unfortunate. If music by an almost completely unknown composer is presented it is preferable to hear it as it was written by him. Moreover, these preludes are included to show the stylistic development during Weiss's career. That purpose is lost if the pieces are arranged. The two preludes which are played at the cello don't sound that idiomatic. I had greatly preferred a performance at the flute.

Even so, this disc is very welcome, not only because it enhances our knowledge of some aspects of music life in the latter decades of the 18th century, especially in London, but also because the music is of good quality and deserves to be performed and recorded. I certainly would like to hear more of Weiss's oeuvre. The artists have generally served him well.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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