In 1995, New Zealand
musicologist Allan Badley and Klaus Heymann of Naxos fame founded Artaria Editions, invoking the name of the eighteenth
century Viennese publishing house which had Hadyn and Mozart
on its books and signed up rising stars like Clementi and Beethoven.
Over the last decade or so, Badley has been sleuthing around
Europe to find obscure scores from the early classical period, dusting them
off and tidying them up for the publication of performing editions.
Meanwhile, Heymann's Naxos
has unearthed excellent orchestras, from Toronto, Sweden, New Zealand and elsewhere to record the music.
All of this is cause for much rejoicing.
Having given us excellent recordings of the music of Joseph
Martin Kraus, Joseph Boulogue,
Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Carl
Ditters von Dittersdorf, Wenzel
Pichl and others, the series now turns to Franz Xaver Richter.
Although the CD booklet does not say so, I am fairly sure that
these are premiere recordings. There is a disc devoted to Richter's
symphonies in the Chandos ‘Contemporaries of Mozart’ series,
but there is no overlap between that
disc and this one.
Richter was one of the key figures in the Mannheim school and probably its most conservative member. While his colleagues,
like Johann Stamitz, made hay with devices like the ‘Mannheim rocket’ and forged ahead with the
new galant style, Richter kept looking over his shoulder
at the example of the Baroque masters.
The six sinfonias collected here come from his time as Kapellmeister
to the Prince Abbot Anselm von Reichlin-Meldegg in Kempton,
Allgau, a few years before he joined the court of the Elector
of Mannheim. They confirm his reverence for the Baroque and
demonstrate his admirable facility as a composer. Idiomatically
this music sits somewhere between that of J.S. and C.P.E. Bach,
with a touch of Handel's theatrical swagger.
Each of these six sinfonias is beautifully crafted. Though short -
the longest of the six plays for not quite 14 minutes - each
movement is structurally balanced and in proportion to its companions.
The first five of the sinfonias consist of three movements -
fast, slow, fast, while the sixth bucks the trend somewhat by
splitting the first movement into an introductory adagio and
a quick fugal second movement. In fact, there is a contrapuntal
flavour to each of these sinfonias. He is no fuddy-duddy, though.
There are some wonderfully adventurous harmonic touches in the
finale of the fifth sinfonia, and the presto finale of the fourth
sinfonia has a Haydnesque wit - though Haydn was only 12 when
it was published. Although the third sinfonia is the only one
of the six in a minor key, Richter frequently modulates into
the minor to spice up each of the sinfonias. The antiphonal
interplay between the violins placed right and left is delightful
- listen to the first movement of the fifth sinfonia, for example.
Richter’s finales are also interesting. The second sinfonia
ends in stately contrapuntal splendour and Richter opts, respectively,
for a courtly and a danceable minuet to conclude the third and
sixth sinfonias, rather than a rattling presto.
This music is charmingly urbane and sophisticated. It is also very
well played. The Helsinki Baroque Orchestra is a bit of a find.
On the evidence of this disc, it is a world class period instrument
ensemble. Tuning is immaculate throughout, and phrasing is intelligent
and structurally sound. I am looking forward to hearing more
from this band.
As so often with these Artaria recordings, Allan Badley provides scholarly
and informative liner notes. If you have any interest in "big
C" Classical music, you will enjoy this disc.