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AK Coburg

Felix DRAESEKE (1835-1913)
Quintet in A major for two violins, viola, violotta (here played cello II) and cello Stelzner WoO 25 (1896) [28:53]
Quintet in F major for two violins, viola and two cellos op. 77 (1901) [31:01]
Acantus String Quartet - Magdeburg; Johannes Hartmann (cello II)
rec. 14-16 March 2001, Hannover, Germany. DDD
world premiere recordings
AK COBURG DR0004 [59:54]



Homage to Stelzner
Felix DRAESEKE (1835-1913)
Quintet in A major for two violins, viola, violotta and cello Stelzner WoO 25 (1896) [26:52]
Arnold KRUG (1849-1904)
Sextet in D major for strings Preissextet op. 68 (1896) [59:05]
Felix DRAESEKE/Wolfgang MÜLLER-STEINBACH (b. 1945)
Süße Melancholie from the Ghaselenkranz for piano Fata Morgana op. 13 no. 8 (transcribed for string quintet) () [2:40]
The Summit Chamber Players; Naomi Gjevre (violin); Javier Pinell (violin); James Przygocki (viola); James Thomson (violotta); Barbara Thiem (cello); Richard Rognstad (cellone)
rec. Edna Griffin Hall, Colorado St University, 22-23 May 2005. DDD
world premiere recordings. First recording of the Draeseke quintet with the Stelzner instrument.
AK COBURG DR0010 [59:05] 



AK Coburg have been quietly working away at building Draeseke's niche in the record catalogue. While CPO has several Draeseke discs AK Coburg have many more featuring Draeseke's chamber works. It's not so much a niche now as a major platform. I rather hope that Draeseke can look down on the industry of Alan Krueck and his collaborators because I am sure he would want to thank these dedicated angels for making his music available again. And there are yet more Draeseke CDs to come. Not that many classical music enthusiasts would know anything about them. What is it with the major broadcasters and the many CD review publications (Fanfare excluded) that they are not prepared to admit or review the industry and achievement of such enterprises and a host of others? The classical music world that they present is a narrow consumptive creature by comparison with the reality. Organisations such as AK Coburg deserve the oxygen of publicity.

In the case of the all-Draeseke disc the listener is treated to two string quintets one of which has a very recondite feature. It includes a part for violotta although in this case it is played by a second cello.

The history of music and the annals of patent offices down the ages are littered with the corpses of instruments that never quite made it. These discs tell us of two and in the case of the second disc lets us hear them as well.

The violotta was one of a range of re-engineered string instruments produced by Dr Alfred Stelzner (1852-1906). The violotta is a sort of tenor viola  42cm long. It was tuned an octave below the violin fifths. 

The first two movements of the Draeseke Stelzner work are a melodic continuum unfolding in a continuous easeful singing sense of motion. The third  movement provides much needed contrast with its ripe pizzicato and contrasting grace. These are two melodically dense and engagingly grave quintets. Highlights are the Langsam of the Op. 77 work and the scherzo of the Stelzner work. The WoO25 quintet has a classical air reminiscent of Haydn while the Stelzner quintet for string quartet with additional cello (rather than the specified violotta) has a more romantic Brahmsian character. The music ebbs, flows, yearns and releases as well as casting admiring glances towards Smetana and Beethoven.

The notes for both discs are thorough and I have made shameless use of them in this review. The works themselves are described in a level of technical analytical detail that will leave many in the starting blocks but there is so much other fascinating factual background that it's clear we have sacrificed nothing in the way of description of milieu.

The second disc from AK Coburg features the Draeseke Stelzner work, this time with the violotta part played on the instrument for which it was intended. There's also the  Arnold Krug string sextet including parts for two Stelzner 'creatures', the cellone and the violotta, alongside the usual quartet specification. Draeseke's Op. 77 piece features only the violotta in addition to the standard string quartet.

Comparing the versions of the Draeseke Stelzner work Summit Players are two minutes quicker than the Acantus. The Summit group are more deliberately shaped in the finale which by contrast has an exhilarating swing in the hands of the Acantus. On the other hand, in the first movement, the Acantus sound not quite as tangily auburn-toned in the bass line. This is no doubt down to the presence of the authentic violotta. The Summit team project a bright woody pizzicato where the Acantus pizzicato is more silvery and aerated - a very agreeable sound but possibly not what Draeseke intended.

The cellone used in the Krug work is slightly larger than a standard cello and sounds deeper. Its four strings are tuned to fifths, one octave below the violotta. Its music is notated in the bass clef and is sounded without transposition. All Stelzner's instruments employ high quality spruce or maple. It is reckoned that before the business collapsed Stelzner had made some 330 instruments including slight variants of the violin and viola. Stelzner also composed. Stelzner was also a composer. His operas are designed to show off the distinctive timbre of his instruments. Rubezahl in four acts appeared  at the Dresden Court Theatre in 1902. The next year there was a one-acter called Swatowits ende which was premiered in Kassel. There are two others: Cecilia in five acts and Kinder des Todes in two acts. Max von Schillings included a solo part for the violotta in his opera Der Pfeifertag. Sadly Stelzner's instruments died after their creator's death in 1906 of suicide due to bankruptcy.

Krug was born in Hamburg as was Stelzner. He went to Leipzig to study with Reinecke. After qualifying he took a teaching post at Berlin's Stern Conservatory. There he was much associated with Friedrich Kiel. He returned to Hamburg to work at the Conservatory in 1878. His catalogue is thronged with choral and vocal works but tucked in there is a Violin Concerto and a Symphony. Sounds like a typical CPO project in germ.

The Krug sextet was one of two pieces submitted as entries in a competition run in 1896 by the Dresden Conservatory for works including Stelzner instruments. The other work was a similarly specified sextet by Eduard Behm (1862-1946). Alan Krueck's satisfyingly detailed notes mention one other such work which excluded the cellone in favour of the double bass. This was the sextet by Austrian composer Theodore Streicher (1874-1939). I can see that there is another disc to come from some enterprising company. It's rather surprising that Ludwig Thuille did not try his hand at a work including the Stelzner experiments.

The Krug Sextet is written in grateful melodic paragraphs that are often touchingly Mendelssohnian. He draws sighing romance from the six players and his themes have a satisfying rise and fall which I thought close to Grieg. The second movement makes telling use of hesitations.

The sentimental and very brief Süße Melancholie sometimes recalls Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence and towards the end makes inventive use of the bass sonorities of the string quintet including the two Stelzner instruments. This piece was originally for solo piano. It was specially arranged as an encore as a thank you to the cellist Barbara Thiem with whom Müller-Steinbach recorded Draeseke's complete music for cello and piano on AK Coburg DR0002.

It is intriguing to note that Draeseke also wrote works for at least one other experimental instrument that never made it into the instrumental pantheon. There are two sonatas for Herman Ritter's viola arpa and piano.

There are excellent colour photographs of the cellone and violotta in the booklet and insert for the Summit players' disc.

You should not expect dramatic sonic differences from the Stelzner instruments. I wonder if I would have noticed had I not been told they were there. There is perhaps a more densely baritonal sound to the ensemble works but that is with the benefit of hindsight. This remains however a fascinating obiter in the history of music. Clearly if your primary interest is in Draeseke then you should turn to DR0004 recorded in 2001. Those fascinated by the Stelzner experiment need the 2005 disc DR 0010. And it would be a mistake to write off the Krug as of interest only because of the two Stelzner instruments. It’s well worth hearing in its own right.

Rob Barnett


AK Coburg



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