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Wind Music
Franz KROMMER (1759-1831)
Octet-Partita in F, op.57 (1807-10) (1. Allegro vivace [5:13]; 2. Menuetto: Presto [4:25]; 3. Adagio [4:13]; 4. Alla polacca [4:36])
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Mládí (Youth) – Septet for wind ensemble (1924) (5. Allegro [3:28]; 6. Andante sostenuto [5:13]; 7. Vivace [3:45]; 8. Allegro animato [4:37])
Mátyás SEIBER (1905-1960)
Serenade for two clarinets, two bassoons, and two horns (1925) (9. Allegro moderato [4:29]; 10. Lento [3:46]; 11. Allegro vivace [5:37])
Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Octet-Partita in E flat for wind ensemble (1803) (12. Allegro con spirito [6:24]; 13. Andante [3:47]; 14. vivace assai [2:48])
Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Slavonic Dances, opp. 46; 72 (1878; 1886): 15. No.8 in G minor [4:01]; 16. No.9 in C major, op.72 no.1 [4:19]; 17. No. 15 in C major, op.72 no.7 [3:15]
Wind Soloists of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe
rec. 1989?
COE RECORDS CD COE 812 [75:18] 


 

The name of Franz Krommer is one of those that will be familiar to players of wind instruments, but possibly entirely unknown to other music-lovers.  As you can see, he was born around the same time as Mozart, but lived on into the 19th century, beyond the death of Beethoven.  Czech by birth, he was a violinist, and held a number of court positions, mostly in Vienna, composing instrumental music for a wide range of media.  He became celebrated in his later years, and was regarded as a credible rival to Beethoven. 

Nowadays, that judgement seems a little quaint; but don’t underestimate Krommer.  The octet-serenade that begins this delightful disc from the Chamber Orchestra of Europe is ample proof that he was a real creative force.  The medium of wind octet – pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns, underpinned in this performance by a string bass – was a highly popular one around the turn of the century in Vienna. Mozart wrote a number of works for it, including two masterpieces, while Beethoven also composed one, with the misleadingly late opus number of 103 – actually written when he was a teenager. 

I’ve played in or directed several of Krommer’s octets, and it’s fair to say that they are highly variable in quality.  The one that begins this disc, however, is a particularly fine example.  It’s witty, inventive and melodious, with a wonderful sense of the solo and ensemble potentials of the medium.  The first movement is a fully-fledged sonata-allegro, with a fanfare-like first subject and a smoother second theme.  For me, though, it’s the bridge between the two that is most engaging – a sudden burst of furious staccato in bassoons, with throbbing off-beat chords above, reminding us that Turkish music was all the rage in Vienna around this time. 

The Menuetto that follows is another delight; Krommer plays around with a simple tonic-dominant figure, which is then carried over into the calmer waters of the trio, causing entertaining little rhythmic ripples whenever it crops up.  The Adagio is an expressive slow movement in the minor key, touching on darker emotions, while the finale is a mischievous Alla polacca.  Here, as everywhere on this disc, the playing of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe Wind Soloists is pure joy, clean as a whistle, yet missing none of the fun and sparkle of the music.  Some of the writing for oboe and horn is quite fiendish, yet is thrown off by Douglas Boyd and Jonathan Williams with carefree panache. 

From one Czech master to another – or to be precise a Moravian in the case of Leoš Janáček.  Best known perhaps as an opera composer, Janáček nonetheless composed a many fine instrumental works, of which Mládí is one of the most charming and characteristic.  The title means ‘Youth’, a little ironic when we realise that the composer was entering his seventies when he wrote it, and within a few years of his death.  But, like all Janáček’s late music, it has incredible energy and inventiveness, and there’s nothing else quite like it in the repertoire of wind chamber music.  The line-up is unusual; basically a ‘classical’ wind quintet of flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon, with the addition of the bass clarinet.  This has the great advantage of both reinforcing the bass line and allowing the bassoon greater freedom to explore its glorious high register.  And Janáček exploits wonderful mixed colours too, such as the slightly sinister unison of bassoon and bass clarinet at the start of the Andante sostenuto.  There may be those who would prefer a more ‘earthy’ reading than this; for me, it is quite simply the most wholly convincing recording of the work I have yet heard, disciplined in ensemble yet fully capturing the inherent wildness of the music. 

It’s very interesting to move on to the Serenade for wind sextet of Hungarian Mátyás Seiber, for the opening theme has an uncanny resemblance to that of Mládí, even more striking when on considers it was written just a year after the Janáček.   The close resemblance ends there, however, even though the composers do have a great deal in common stylistically.  The Seiber is a rather darker piece, with a language very much drawn from Hungarian folk idioms.  Like Mládí, though, it is superbly conceived for its ensemble, and the absence of oboe tone, so prominent in the other works on the disc, makes it a good foil. 

The Hummel Octet-Partita is a very close relation to those of Krommer.  Hummel, however, wrote just the one work in this genre – but it’s a cracker!  I must direct you to the second theme of the first movement – track 12 around 0:43 – for an example of the wit and élan of this scrumptious piece.  Perhaps the finale is weak compared to the other two movements, but the octet is well worth the effort if you haven’t come across it before.  The notes point out, correctly, that Hummel originally underpinned the bass line with a serpent.  They then go on to comment that this recording wisely substitutes a double bassoon.  This is the sort of thing that makes you wonder if the people who write these notes actually listen to the recordings; there is no double-bassoon, but a double-bass instead.  It’s not difficult to spot, particularly as it’s rare to hear a double bassoon played pizzicato.

The disc is nicely rounded off by three of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, arranged for wind ensemble by Patrick Clementi; why isn’t he credited in the schedule of works?  Great fun, but it would have been even better if there had been a slower dance to provide contrast with these three rather rumbustious examples. 

Nevertheless, this is a truly outstanding disc, another happy addition to the list of recent reissues of the CoE’s recordings.  I just wish they’d tell us a little more about ‘where and when’, though! 

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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