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Johann Christian Friedrich SCHNEIDER (1786-1853)
Symphony No. 17 in c minor [23:42]

Concerto for violin and strings in d minor* [21:30]
Symphony No. 1 in c, op. 11 [32:30]
Hiro Kurosaki, violin (*)
Cappella Coloniensis/Sigiswald Kuijken
Recorded in November 2003 at the Paterskirche in Kempen, Germany DDD
CPO 999 932-2 [77:53]


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On 7 April 1805 Beethoven's Eroica Symphony got its first performance during a concert in Vienna. At the same concert another symphony in E flat was performed, composed by Anton Eberl (1765 - 1807). Public and critics alike thought Eberl's symphony the better of the two. We know what happened: Eberl's symphony fell into oblivion (until it was recorded by Concerto Köln), whereas Beethoven's Eroica turned into one of the most popular of his compositions. This shows how different the assessment of composers and their music can be from one time to another.

The present disc presents another forgotten master of the early 19th century: Johann Christian Friedrich Schneider. He took piano lessons from his father, Johann Gottlob (1753 - 1840). In 1798 he entered the Zittau Gymnasium and soon started to compose his first works. In 1804 he published three keyboard sonatas. In 1805 he entered Leipzig University, and in 1807 he was appointed organist of the Universitätskirche. In 1812 he became organist of the St Thomas's Church, in 1816 conductor of the Singakademie and in 1817 director of the city theatre. His future seemed to be in Leipzig, but his life took a turn when he accepted the post of Hofkapellmeister at the court of Anhalt-Dessau. There he played an important role in the building up of musical life: he founded a Singakademie, a Liedertafel and a music school. He was also a renowned teacher: one of his pupils was the German composer Robert Franz (1815 - 1892). Schneider had a reputation as a pianist, as is demonstrated by the fact that he gave what was probably the first performance of Beethoven's 5th Piano Concerto in Leipzig in 1811. His compositional output is pretty large and varied, as he wrote symphonic works, but also masses and operas. One of the features of the Symphony No. 17 played here (which was the third he wrote in Dessau) is its instrumentation. Especially in the first movement the wind instruments play a prominent role, giving a particular colouring to this movement. The wind players of the orchestra are very impressive here. This symphony also contains pretty strong dynamic contrasts, which are not realised to their full extent. The tempo of the second movement - andante - is a little too slow, and the menuet could have been more playful. As well as the orchestra is playing I have the feeling that not all the symphony's qualities are delivered here. But the performance is good enough to suggest that Schneider's music is really worth to be explored further.

The other two works are by Mendelssohn, one generation younger than Schneider, and also a man of reputation in his time, both as a composer and as a performer. He was widely admired for his skills at the piano, but he was equally accomplished on the violin. The violin concerto recorded here dates from 1822, from the same period in which Mendelssohn wrote his symphonies for strings. Like these this violin concerto was intended to be played at the Sunday concerts at the Mendelssohn home. It is possible that Mendelssohn played the solo part himself, but it could also have been performed by his friend Ferdinand David, for whom he later composed his now much more famous Violin Concerto op. 64. This concerto begins with an allegro molto which reminds of the symphonies of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, whose influence also shines through in the string symphonies and whose music Mendelssohn got familiar with through his teacher Carl Friedrich Zelter, a great admirer of the 'Hamburg Bach'. The second movement is a real romantic piece, with a beautifully shaped melodic line over a tapestry of strings, creating a wonderful warm and intimate mood. The last movement is a joyful piece with a folkloristic character.

Hiro Kurosaki give a first-class performance, producing a beautiful clear sound, using minimal vibrato. Both the romantic mood of the second movement and the joyful and sparkling last movement are realised perfectly here by soloist and orchestra alike.

The last item is the first symphony for full orchestra with strings and wind Mendelssohn composed. It was first performed in 1824. In its character it is still close to the string symphonies, and also referring to models of the past, in this case Mozart, in particular his Symphony in g minor (KV 550). This symphony gets a very energetic performance, showing the qualities which I missed to some extent in the performance of Schneider's symphony, like the strong dynamic accents and really convincing tempi. The wind players are at their best again in the second movement (there is also a wonderful solo for the clarinet in the last movement). The contrast between menuet and trio (third movement) is brought out well.

This is a very interesting recording: Schneider's work is definitely intriguing, and Mendelssohn gets ideal performances.

Johan van Veen


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