We have the Augustinian
Monastery in Altbrünn to thank
for half of this programme. From 1816
Father Cyrill Franz Napp insisted that
all new applicants to the monastery
be accepted or rejected on the basis
of their musical skills and the needs
of the Monastery’s wind ensemble. The
ensemble performed as dinner entertainment
for the abbot and guests of honour,
on anniversaries and memorial days,
as well as presenting serenades for
the residents of the town. Opera transcriptions
formed the mainstay until the 1840s.
Opera was forbidden in the monastery,
but music from the operas was allowed
and Rossini’s operas were amongst their
favourites. The arrangements were made
for the monastery by local musicians,
but all the ones on this disc are by
Vaclav (Wenzel) Sedlak, the music director
at the court of Prince Johann of Liechtenstein.
Sedlak was a prominent clarinet virtuoso.
He even transcribed the whole of Fidelio
(probably under Beethoven’s supervision)
for wind ensemble.
The remaining transcriptions
on this disc are by Guillaume Legrand
who was Music Director of the Military
Choirs in Munich. Legrand and his two
brothers went to Munich to further their
musical education. Legrand started out
as an oboist in the court orchestra.
The Rossini transcriptions played here
were composed in the period 1812-1817.
Sedlak and Legrand
utilised slightly different orchestrations;
Sedlak using 2 oboes and 2 clarinets
whereas Legrand used 1 flute, 1 oboe
and 2 clarinets. What is remarkable
about the orchestrations is how intrinsically
skilful they are, surely the mark of
a good transcription. It is not that
you don’t miss the full orchestral version,
but that you accept the new version
on its own terms. Only occasionally
does a thinness of the texture make
one miss the fullness of the strings.
Of course performing
with just a wind octet (plus double
bass and percussion where necessary),
Consortium Classicum can give us the
sort of focused, crisp, well-balanced
performances that more resemble the
litheness of period performance than
the fullness of the romantic symphony
orchestra. For me, this is a big plus.
In all the pieces, the group’s playing
is a joy. The bass lines are full of
bounce and not too thick and heavy.
The passagework is fleet and nimble
with some particularly impressive flutter-tonguing
from the flutes. The transcriptions
of ‘La gazza ladra’ and ‘La Cenerentola’
retain Rossini’s percussion parts, which
particularly add to the effect of these
My only small cavil
is that the booklet is studiously vague
about exactly which overture was transcribed
by whom. To work this out, you have
to pay attention to which ones use a
flute. But there again faced with such
charming music so joyously played, its
better just to sit back and relax.