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Gregor Joseph WERNER (1693 - 1766) & Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809): Music for the Esterházy's

[I] Gregor Joseph WERNER: "The Musical Calender"
Aura Musicale
Dir: Balász Máté

rec: Feb 21 - March 1, 2011, Budapest, Hungaroton Studio
Hungaroton - HCD 32654-55 (2 CDs) (© 2011) (1.57'50")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/H
Cover & track-list

Gregor Joseph Werner, Neuer und sehr curios-Musicalischer Instrumental-Calender, 1748

Sándor Endrödy, Lehel Rónay/András Kovalcsik, horn; László Borsódy, post horn; László Paulik, Erzsébet Rácz, Ildikó Hadházy, Éva Posvanecz, Pál Jász/Júlia Rabovay, Eszter Draskóczy, violin; Baász Máté, cello; Attila Szilágy, double bass; István Györi, guitar; Soma Dinyés/Bernadett Mészáros, harpsichord

[II] Franz Joseph HAYDN: "Symphonies Nos 6, 7, 8 - Le matin, Le midi, Le soir"
NFM Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra
Dir: Jaroslaw Thiel

rec: Sept 23 - 25, 2010, Wroclaw, Radio Wroclaw (Jan Kaczmarek Concert Hall)
Accord - ACD 167-2 (© 2010) (70'47")
Liner-notes: E/D/P
Cover & track-list

Symphony in D 'Le matin' (H I,6); Symphony in C 'Le midi' (H I,7); Symphony in G 'Le soir' (H I,8)

Brian Berryman, Katarzyna Raczkowska, transverse flute; Marek Niewiedzial, Marcus Müller, oboe; Krzystof Stencel, Dominika Stencel, horn; Szymon Józefowski, bassoon; Zbigniew Pilch, Mikolaj Zgolka, Juliusz Zurawski, Adam Pastuszka, Martyna Pastuska, Bernadeta Wujtewicz, violin; Dominik Debski, viola; Jaroslaw Thiel, cello; Janusz Musial, double bass

[III] Franz Joseph HAYDN: "Cello Concertos"
Sergei Istomin, celloa
Apollo Ensemble
Dir: David Rabinovich

rec: August 2009, Deventer, Doopsgezinde Kerk
Passacaille - 960 (© 2010) (58'07")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/N
Cover & track-list
Score & Parts

Concerto for cello and orchestra in C (H VIIb,1)a; Concerto for cello and orchestra in D (H VIIb,2)a; Symphony in B flat (H I,16)

Ofer Frenkel, Mario Topper, oboe; Karen Libischewski, Torben Klink, horn; Thomas Oltheten, bassoon; David Rabinovich, Liesbeth Nijs, Igor Rukhadze, Daria Gorban, violin; Tamara Mkrtychyan, viola; Sergei Istomin, cello; Maria Vahervuo, double bass

The three discs to be reviewed here bring us to the court of the Esterházy family. Here we meet the two musicians who dominated the musical activities at the court for more than 60 years. One of them is world-famous, the other almost completely neglected. One of them was considered one of the driving forces of the newly-emerging classical style, the other a relict of the past. We are talking here about Gregor Joseph Werner and Franz Joseph Haydn respectively.

Werner is the one who is largely ignored and who is generally considered old-fashioned and out of step with his time. The fact that he is reported of judging the qualities of Haydn rather negatively has not exactly improved his reputation. It is easily overlooked that in his time he was highly respected and his compositions - in particular his religious music - found wide dissemination. And considering the great love of music of the Esterházy princes it is hard to imagine that they would have appointed Werner as Kapellmeister if his qualities as a composer and a performer would have been below par. Moreover, in his later years various fashions coexisted, and he was certainly not the only composer who still adhered to tradition.

Little is known about his early years. In 1693 he was born in Ybbs an der Donau in Lower Austria. His first position was that of organist at Melk Abbey, from 1715 to 1716 or 1721. In 1727 he married in Vienna, and it is assumed that here he became a pupil of Johann Josef Fux. This could well explain the character of his sacred music which was dominated by counterpoint, of which Fux was a strong advocate. In May 1728 Werner moved to Eisenstadt to take the position of Kapellmeister. In 1748 he published the work for which he is best-known, the Neuer und sehr curios-Musicalischer Instrumental-Calender. It is a collection of movements divided into 12 sections, each representing one month of the year. Many movements are of a descriptive character, and it is suggested Werner could have written it at the request of his employer, who seems to have had a strong liking for that kind of music. This is confirmed by the presence of Vivaldi's Four Seasons in the music library of the Esterházy's.

Werner may be considered a late representative of the baroque style, this collection also shows influences from more modern fashions, even the early classical style. This is not surprising considering that in some of his sacred works he is influenced by the Neapolitan style. The scoring is for two violins and basso continuo. Balász Máté decided to perform the large majority of the movements with three violins per part. In some movements two horns are added - for instance in 'Die Jagd' (The hunt) from Im Oktober -, and in 'Das Posthorn' (Im Augustusmonat) a post horn is played. This kind of freedom is not necessarily wrong, but as the collection was clearly published with amateur performers in mind, it seems that Werner didn't think the use of wind was necesary. The scoring with more than one violin per part seems less plausible, as the absence of viola parts usually indicates a solistic performance.

Aura Musicale is not the first ensemble to record this collection. In 1991 Christophorus released a recording of Concilium musicum Wien, directed by Paul Angerer. As they performed this music with two violins, this new recording can be considered an alternative, which has its own merits. The playing is lively and technically impeccable. The character of the various movements comes off quite nicely, and that makes this new production an interesting addition to the catalogue. Despite the quality of Werner's music one is well advised not to listen to these two discs at a stretch.

In May 1761 Franz Joseph Haydn was appointed Vizekapellmeister, whose duty was particularly the writing of instrumental music. Werner remained Oberhofkapellmeister and was expected to concentrate on sacred music. In his first year Haydn wrote the three symphonies which are known as Die Tageszeiten - a title which is not mentioned in any of the extant contemporary copies and printed editions. The fact that they are catalogued by Hoboken as the numbers 6 to 8 suggests thay they belong to his earliest symphonies, but in fact he had already written almost 20 symphonies. These three works are also descriptive pieces, and it is quite possible that - like Werner's Instrumentalcalender - they have been written at the request of Prince Paul Anton.

Haydn didn't use the word sinfonia for any of them, and the reason could be that they are different from Haydn's other symphonies. It is particular the extended role of various instruments in these symphonies which sets them apart. The musicologist Armin Raab sees here a reminscence of the baroque concerto grosso. The importance of the various solo instruments was only possible because of the quality of the Esterházy orchestra. Under Werner the skills of the ensemble were already remarkable, but when Haydn was appointed he was also asked to reorganise it. And these symphonies provided him the opportunity to demonstrate how well he had fulfilled that request.

These symphonies are rather well represented on disc. Among the best recordings are those by the Freiburger Barockorchester and the Concentus musicus Wien. It is known that Haydn's orchestra at the time he composed these symphonies was rather small, probably around 15 or 16 musicians. The Freiburger Barockorchester is a little larger, whereas the NFM Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra comprises 16 players. Unlike in FBO's recording no harpsichord is used. This is in line with Haydn's own practice who led his orchestra from the first violin. The orchestra's performances are highly enjoyable. The second movement of the Symphony in D gets a subtle performance, whereas the first movement of the Symphony in C receives a forceful interpretation, with a good presence of the bassoon. This symphony's second movement is a recitative which is excellently realized. An important feature of these performances is a good differentiation between good and bad notes. In short, these are very fine performances which every Haydn lover will greatly enjoy.

The last disc brings the two cello concertos and the Symphony in B flat (H I,16) which are also played in a small scoring of four violins, two violas, cello, double bass, bassoon and pairs of oboes and horns. The Concerto for cello, 2 horns and strings in C is assumed to date from 1765, and was likely written for JosephWeigl who was appointed cellist in the chapel of the Esterházy's in June 1761. The date of composition of the Symphony in B flat is not certain, but it was written in the 1760s, before or after Haydn's arrival in Eisenstadt. It seems likely that it was first intended for a small ensemble as well. The Concerto for cello and orchestra in D was written in 1783, this time for the famous and virtuosic cellist Franz Anton Kraft. It is this work in which a modest scoring like that of the Apollo Ensemble is less plausible.

It is also here that the performance by Sergei Istomin is not totally satisfying. That is mainly due to the fact that some of the highest notes sound a bit stressed. But that is the only blot on a disc which brings a different perspective on two of Haydn's most popular works. The first cello concerto receives a very fine performance, in which Istomin is really part of the ensemble rather than the star soloist. The lesser-known Symphony in B flat comes off equally well. All in all a recommendable disc which is also worth exploring if you already have various recordings of the cello concertos in your collection.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Sergei Istomin
Apollo Ensemble
Aura Musicale
NFM Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra

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