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Anton ZIMMERMANN (1741-1781)
String Quartet No. 1 in E flat major Op. 3/1
String Quartet No. 2 in B major Op. 3/2
String Quartet No. 3 in F major Op. 3/3
Musica Aeterna Soloists
Recorded at the Gothic Church of Liptovská Osada, Slovakia, May 1994
NAXOS 8.553952 [67.44]

There’s no sign of Anton Zimmermann in Rosa Newmarch’s The Music of Czechoslovakia (nor is there in Štěpánek and Karásek’s Outline of Czech and Slovak music) though there’s plenty on his exact contemporary Wenzel Pichl and the slightly older František Brixi and František Tůma. Though Tůma spent almost his entire life in Vienna in the service of the court and Zimmermann crowned his short compositional career with a decade in Bratislava (then the Hungarian Pozsony or, in German, Pressburg) he had actually been born in Siroká Niva in what is now Silesia. The geo-political complications of life in the Monarchy, no less than the religious and linguistic ones, account for his exclusion; he was not by birth what we would now call a product either of the Czech lands or of Slovakia. Nevertheless as a leading composer in the then German-speaking Hungarian capital he cut an impressive figure – Court Composer, violinist and artistic director and writer of a great deal of music for Cardinal Batthyányi’s orchestra. This included a large number of symphonies and a raft of chamber works, a number of which he saw into print in 1767-77.

How good a composer was Zimmermann? Well it’s been known for years that at least two of his symphonies were good enough to be confused with Haydn’s and that gives one a good marker as to his stylistic orientation. These quartets, his Op. 3, of which there are six in total, are undated in the booklet notes but presumably come from the early- to mid-1770s. Each is written in a suite-like five movements, full of dance rhythms and tonal amplitude. The E major sports an attractive Allegretto opener and a sportive Menuetto with a long lean on the first note of a phrase and the skittering final presto has fine interchanges for the fiddles. The B major is animated with the usual Zimmermann Allegretto high spirits – spry and sparky – and an attractive and pomposo Menuetto. In the Adagio he utilises unison pizzicati and then spins the first violin’s cantilena over its undercurrent in a rather beautiful way. Finishing this with an abrasively jovial Presto seems entirely right. He rings the changes with a variations opening movement to the F major but exploits the pizzicato idea again, this time in the Menuet, which is full of airy tracery and probably the high point of this quartet.

Zimmermann’s muse then was essentially Haydnesque though there’s plenty of room for touches of individuality and expressive nuance. The performances by the Musica Aeterna Soloists have been in Naxos’s vaults for getting on for a decade now and I can’t trace any previous issue. They play on original instruments and produce a bright rather raw tone. It’s noticeable that in the E flat major’s violin exchanges second violin Milos Valent cultivates a less volatile line than does leader Peter Zajíček whose phrasing can be rough. Still the rather pesant quality this imparts also brings some rewards. The notes are good biographically but say little formally about the music.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Colin Clarke


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