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Carl STAMITZ (1745-1801)
Orchestral Quartets
Orchestral Quartet in F Op.14 No.4 [20:58]
Concertante Quartet in B flat Op.14 No.5 [15:00]
Concertante Quartet in G Op.14 No.2 [12:56]
Orchestral Quartet in C Op.14 No.1 [18:00]
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra Chamber Orchestra/Donald Armstrong
rec. Sacred Heart Cathedral, Wellington, New Zealand, 3-6 August 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557671 [66:55]


Carl was the elder of two musical sons of Johann Stamitz, leading light of the Mannheim school. In 1770 he left for Paris, subsequently travelling widely and composing extensively. Although a violinist, a series of clarinet concertos are amongst his best known works. These have previously been issued on Naxos (8.553584 and 8.554339), discs which are highly recommendable.

In 1776 Stamitz published six quartets. Numbers 1 and 4 were specifically intended for orchestra, 2 and 5 were marked as “concertante” works and the remaining two (not played here) for undefined forces. If I have understood the booklet correctly, and my ears do not deceive me, there are no important differences between works here in the size of forces – all are for a modest-sized string orchestra. In the concertante works it sounds as though the top part is frequently for solo violin – presumably Donald Armstrong who leads and directs. Unfortunately the booklet lacks specific information on the instrumentation. Although the ambiguities of score markings are mentioned it would be of interest to know how they were interpreted by these players. Otherwise the documentation is excellent and has the authority of Allan Badley who edited the scores.

All the works are full of charming tunes and number four in particular is delightful within a standard fast-slow-fast movement structure (number five deviates in having two movements). The second movement is not very slow – almost Allegretto – and the finale has an unexpected and tantalising close. The concertante works add variety in the middle of the disc and the Presto finale of the G major work is greatly enjoyable. The “orchestral” works have a bit more substance and the disc closes with the initially rather grand C major quartet and its humorous finale.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra Chamber Orchestra (to give its full title) will be twenty years old in 2007. They have previously recorded a disc of Beck symphonies (see review) and I was impressed enough with the music and playing to make that one of my discs of 2005. If this offering is not quite in the same league, it is not down to the sensitive playing or natural recording – Stamitz’s music is just not as provocative as Beck’s. But it is well worth hearing; anyone who enjoyed the clarinet concerto recordings mentioned above is unlikely to be disappointed. Haydn and Mozart didn’t have it all their own way towards the end of the 18th century – Stamitz was recognised in his lifetime and is worthy of retaining a foothold in the repertoire two centuries on.

Patrick C Waller


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