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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 – 1868)
Sonatas for Wind Quartet

Quartet No. 1 in F major
Quartet No. 2 in G major
Quartet No. 3 in F major
Quartet No. 4 in B flat major
Quartet No. 5 in D major
Quartet No. 6 in F major

Michael Thompson Wind Quartet

Michael Thompson [horn], Jonathan Snowden [flute], Robert Hill [clarinet], John Price [bassoon]
Recorded in St. Paul’s Church, Rusthall, Kent, April,1996.
NAXOS 8.554098 [68:43]


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These are not newly discovered Rossini works, but arrangements of his youthful, popular String Sonatas by a contemporary, Frederic Berr. When I say youthful, I really mean it; they were written in 1804, when the composer was barely twelve years old. Rossini was later to recall that "they were all composed and copied in three days", and he went on to describe them as "horrendous…composed by me at a most youthful age, when I hadn’t even had a lesson in thorough-bass". Even so, he obviously retained a fondness for them, and five of the six were published in Milan around 1825/26.

If the record catalogue is anything to go by, the pieces are still as popular as ever, and there are some dozen or so versions available, admittedly mainly arranged for full string complement rather than four soloists, but still highly effective. The present versions for wind quartet work just as well.

Although details are sketchy, it seems Rossini first encountered Berr when the former was in Paris in June 1825 to conduct the French premiere of his opera Il viaggio a Reims. Berr was the clarinettist in that performance, and it has even been suggested that his playing influenced the air and variations for clarinet that appear in the ballet sequence.

Berr had a long pedigree as a wind player and arranger, and this shows in his skilful handling of the four instruments. Although he obviously uses Rossini’s notes, the voicing of the individual string parts for winds is very convincing. When one remembers of how the composer himself wrote for the wind section (think of any of the overtures), it is difficult to imagine him doing any better a job than Berr, the results being so idiomatic.

The music itself is full of what we consider quintessential Rossini; wit, speed, elegance, numerous memorable tunes and infectious high spirits. On first hearing, one might be forgiven for mistaking the pieces for Mozart, and that is meant as a compliment. There is a classical poise which, given the fairly rigid fast-slow-fast ternary structure of each sonata, constantly recall the Viennese masters. But even at such a young age, genius will out, and one can hear the operatic maestro to come, especially in the andante slow movements and brisk rondo finales.

One can sample almost at random to hear these characteristics; I was particularly taken with the slow movement of the Third Sonata, with the gorgeous flute playing of the ex-LPO flautist Jonathan Snowden a real delight. Indeed, the playing throughout is exemplary; Michael Thompson has recorded quite a bit for Naxos, most notably a superb disc of the Mozart Horn Concertos, but the tonal blend and tightness of ensemble is as good as I’ve heard anywhere.

Keen–eyed readers may wonder where the Sixth Sonata has come from, given that it was only published in the 20th Century. In fact Berr used an existing Andante (and theme and variations), possibly from an opera score, to make the number up to a customary six for his own set. It works perfectly well, and is remarkably consistent with the other ‘genuine’ articles.

An enjoyable disc, then, well recorded and informatively annotated, and certainly a must for all Rossinians.

Tony Haywood

 


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