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Karl VON ORDOŃEZ (1734 - 1786): "Symphonies"

l'arte del mondo
Dir: Werner Ehrhardt

rec: Jan 23 - 26, 2017, Leverkusen, Bayer Erholungshaus
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88985441852 (© 2017) (57'45")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Symphony in C (Brown I,C13); Symphony in D (Sinfonia concertante solenne) in D (Brown I,D5); Symphony in f minor (Brown I,F12); Symphony in B flat (Brown I,B2);

Susanne Regel, Marie-Therese Reith, oboe; Andrew Hale, Christoph Thelen, horn; Albert Marigó Sarrión, Erzsébet Mausz, trumpet; Andrea Keller, Zsuzsanna Czentnár, Martin Ehrhardt, Mariya Ivanova, Petar Mancev, Olga Piskorz, Go Yamamoto, violin; Antje Sabinski, Priscilla Rodríguez Cabaleiro, viola; Linda Mantcheva, Felix Zimmermann, cello; Jörg Lühring, double bass; Massimilano Toni, harpsichord; Peter Hartmann, timpani

From time to time I have expressed my unease about the fact that various compositions from the 18th century are recorded over and over again. That is especially regrettable as a large part of the repertoire is neglected. Fortunately there are still ensembles which now and then surprise us with recordings of music that is hardly known or even completely unknown. The latter is the case with the disc which is devoted to four orchestral works by Karl von Ordońez; all of them have been recorded for the very first time.

The last name suggests that we have to do here with a Spanish composer. He was indeed of Spanish origin, but born in Vienna in a family which belonged to the lower aristocracy. The latter implied that he never could be active as a professional performer or composer. He was rather a dilettante, as Italian composers of aristocratic birth in the first half of the 18th century called themselves. For most of his life he shared his time between acting as a civil servant and as a violinist. He must have been held in high esteem in the latter capacity as in 1771 he joined the Tonkünstler-Societät, which accepted only professional violinists as its members. When Haydn's oratorio Il ritorno di Tobia was performed in 1784 Ordońez led the second violins.

His compositional oeuvre is quite large, and includes more than 70 symphonies. Four specimens of this genre are represented here. Stylistically they show strong affinity with those of, for instance, Wagenseil and Gassmann. The American musicologist A. Peter Brown, who put together a catalogue of Ordońez's oeuvre, states that it is hardly possible to put the symphonies in a chronological order. However, he believes that the three-movement symphonies are from a later date than those in four movements. That is remarkable, considering that the former come first, historically speaking. The symphonies of, for instance, the sons of Bach are all in three movements: fast - slow - fast. In the last quarter of the century it became increasingly common to compose symphonies with four movements, usually with a menuet and trio as the third movement. In Ordońez oeuvre it is the other way around. The role of the wind also testifies that.

In most symphonies the strings are joined by a pair of oboes and horns. The Symphony in f minor is in four movements, but is for strings alone. Notable here is the second movement, with the indication andante scherzante, which includes episodes for the violins, with the viola playing chords as a kind of bass, whereas the lower instruments are silent. The other four-movement work is the Symphony in B flat. It includes parts for oboes and horns, but they play a modest role. In the second movement (andante) the horns keep silent, which is a relic of the baroque era, when horns and trumpets were usually not involved in slow movements. Interesting here is the third movement, a menuet - with split violas - which is not followed by a trio but by a quartetto, which is scored for a string quartet. This is unusual, but probably not surprising, considering that Ordońez composed no fewer than 28 string quartets.

In the Symphony in C, which has three movements, the wind play a much more prominent role, and this supports the assumption that it is of a later date than the other two symphonies. Especially in the finale they have much prominence. Notable is that the second movement (andantino) follows the first attacca, very much like it happens in some symphonies by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.

The disc ends with a work which is called here Symphony in D, but whose original title is Sinfonia concertante solenne. The addition solenne suggests, according to Brown, that it may have been intended for ecclesiastical use. "The first movement will have been played at the start of the service, while the following movements were each allotted to a different section of the Mass from the Introit to the final 'Deo gratias'", Wolfgang Behrens writes in his liner-notes. Notable is also the scoring, which includes trumpets and timpani. At the same time this work, which is in seven movements, reminds me of the orchestral works by the likes of Mozart, which are known as serenade, divertimento or cassation. Especially the two menuet-trio pairs point in that direction. The fact that the work includes various episodes with a solemn character, is not inconsistent with that. Some passages of the oboes made me think of the opening of Haydn's Symphony No. 22, nicknamed 'the Philosopher'. Notable is here the violin solo in the siciliano. The opening movements includes strong dynamic contrasts between the strings and the tutti. The horns and trumpets play a particularly marked role in the intermezzo.

Ordońez is one of those composers who have been completely overshadowed by more famous contemporaries, such as Haydn and Mozart. The more of their oeuvre comes to light, the more it becomes clear that their neglect is unjustified. It is remarkable that some of Ordońez's symphonies have occasionally been attributed to Haydn, which attests to their quality. The pieces recorded by l'arte del mondo are further proof of that. They receive excellent performances here. The orchestra convinces with its technical prowess, and its energetic approach serves these symphonies perfectly. The parts of the wind are clearly discernible, thanks to the good balance between the various groups of instruments in the orchestra, but also the fine recording.

Programmes of orchestral music from the classical period could be so much more interesting and entertaining, if the established orchestras of our time would be a little bit more adventurous and willing to take some risks by programming music of the kind performed here.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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