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Johann Joachim QUANTZ (1697-1773)
Concerto in G minor for two flutes, strings and bc: Allegro [6.17]; Amoroso [4.18]; Presto [4.56]
Concerto in G major for two flutes, strings and bc (No.89): Spiritoso e larghetto [2.42]; Allegro [3.46]; Grave [1.59]; Allegro assai [3.46]
Concerto in D major for flute, strings and bc (No.82): Allegro di molto-Adagio-Allegro [7.32]; Un poco andante e cantabile [4.49]; Allegro [4.56]
Concerto in G major for flute, strings and bc (No161): Allegro [5.58]; Arioso mesto [5.56]; Allegro Vivace [4.12]
Josep-Francesc Palou – flute
Claudi Arimany - flute
Hungarian Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra
Rec. Aug 2002, L’Auditori del Conservatori de Palma de Mallorca
COLUMNA MUSICA 1CM0109 [61.33]

 

For a long time the whole period of early classical music has been given rather a lowly status, falling between the giant figures of Bach on the one hand and Mozart on the other. And yet, this was a period of the utmost civilisation, none more glorious than that revolving around the remarkable Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. It may not help that Prussia has so thoroughly ceased to exist as an entity, nor that the Rococo style of architecture and painting in which the music was created has seemed, for many, to be somewhat effete and frivolous (even Frederick’s favourite palace, Sans Souci at Potsdam, near Berlin, is largely a study in un-manly pinks and lemon yellows) so that the impression of decadence is almost excusable. Historically however, the style is easier to see as a reflection of the desire to contrast the hardness of the summer war campaigns (and there was no more effective man on the field in his time than the King of Prussia) with a graciousness of living that, in many ways, justified the violence of the campaigns to preserve it.

Frederick the Great was a typical, and yet exceptionally well developed, example of the renaissance man; adept in battle, skilful in politics, a poet, a philosopher and friend of Voltaire (the greatest mind of the age), and, above all as far as history is concerned, probably the most musically capable aristocrat of all time. Why the music of his court should have been held for so long in lower esteem than that of other monarchs is incomprehensible. His two great musicians were C.P.E. Bach and J.J. Quantz. That Quantz got to write little other than flute music is unsurprising. The finest virtuoso of his day, he was naturally inclined to write for his own instrument. That his student was the King, and judging by the virtuosity of the concertos for two flutes recorded here, an exceptionally fine player himself, was an even greater insensitive. Quantz is famously known to have been paid more than any of the Kings ambassadors, but there is also a sense that musical life at Potsdam must have actually been great fun. To a musician of the fluency of invention of Quantz, the hothouse environment was obviously highly conducive. The concertos on this recording show the composer at his sparkling best and the music really is of absolutely first rank calibre. Constant invention, vigorous rhythmic writing, subtlety of harmonic language, and sheer beauty of melodic lines are the constant hallmarks. And if there remains any doubt about Quantz’s ability as a "serious" composer the splendid double fugue that forms the second movement of the concerto No.89 should put any qualms to rest. The disc ends with the only one of Quantz’s concertos to have become widely known; and justifiably, for No.161 is a large-scale composition of great brilliance and panache. However, the real find is in the two concertos for a pair of flutes, wherein the dialogue possibilities between not only soloists and band, but between the soloists themselves presents an extra dimension for the composer’s imagination.

These performances are on modern instruments accompanied by a modern string orchestra. It is not that long ago that one would listen with a heavy heart to the leaden accompaniments of East European string bands whose sound was characterised by little more than great lushness. The Hungarian Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra (presumably under the direction of the soloists, although this is not specified) play with a clarity of sound and phrasing that is more like something from the period instrument camp. The basses play with a drive in the fast movements that is compelling, without any of that weight that so often hampers such groups in baroque repertoire. Similarly the soloists, although playing modern metal flutes manage to keep the sense of elegance at the forefront of the interpretation. There is some loss of warmth in the sound, for a metal flute can never replicate fully the warmth of its wooden counterpart, but the style of the playing is consistently refined. Recording quality is also extremely good, there being no quibbles with solo/orchestral balance or capture. A particularly solid bass sound gives wonderful grounding in the ritornelli, noticeable in the very opening bars of the first track. Good booklet notes and elegant presentation complete an excellent package. This is a most welcome disc of stylish performances of quite wonderful music and deserves wide dissemination.

Peter Wells



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