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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger



Ernst Wilhelm WOLF (1735-1792)
Symphony in E flat major [16.51]
Symphony in F major [23.51]
Symphony in C major (1786) [17.20]
Symphony in D major [[6.54]
Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, Weimar/Nicolás Pasquet
rec. Concert Hall of the Franz Liszt University of Music, Weimar, April 2003
NAXOS 8.557132 [64.56]



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Ernst Wilhelm Wolf - born 1735, Kapellmeister in Weimar. Wolf is another who has managed to slip History’s moorings so it’s pleasant to encounter him in the guise of symphonist especially as he’s known – if at all – as a Singspiel and piano composer. He heard C P E Bach and Hasse, married Franz Benda’s daughter, Karoline, was appointed to his distinguished position in Weimar under Duchess Anna Amalia, suffered a stroke in his late fifties and died in 1792.

His symphonies date from his lengthy period in Weimar and span the years 1772 to 1791. He wrote approximately thirty-five of which twenty-six are known to have survived. Some are independent symphonic works whilst others have a more straightforward connection to the theatre inasmuch as they were used as Singspiel overtures, such as the C major recorded here. The principal influences as the notes make clear are those of C.P.E. Bach and the Mannheim school. That said there are numerous instrumental felicities of scoring that attest to his clever ear. Note the entry of the wind instruments in the opening of the E flat major symphony and the quintet-like sonorities he conjures, or the charm of the Allegretto and the old Viennese dance saluted in the Allegro finale.

The F major has a sliver of a serioso introduction followed by a characteristic Mannheim rocket before Wolf returns to the pensive material heard first. Wolf switches between withdrawal and assertion in a most imaginative way and the thematic material is apt and supportive of the schema. The Andante is quietly affecting, flutes prominent, with touching harmonic scrunches – though it’s a little too extended at over ten minutes and isn’t that a Pergolesi quotation from the Stabat Mater along the way? Nevertheless Wolf is good at generating tension through anticipation of repeated material and he shows it splendidly in the fast Allegro finale – even if the material itself lacks distinction.

The C major Symphony is the only one to be dated with any certainty, 1786, and it’s also the only one of this quartet to be written in four movements. Fluent and fluid it would make perfect material as a singspiel overture. Wolf wrote excellently for winds, here flutes in particular, and the Minuets are deliciously done, and one of the highlights of the disc. He even writes a Mozartian throwaway ending in the Allegro finale. The little D major is barely seven minutes long and would doubtless have served the same function as the C major. The Mannheim crescendo makes itself prominent and the brass run free.

A worthwhile retrieval then of an otherwise well nigh forgotten Weimar scion. Appropriately it’s the local band that promotes him, the Franz List Chamber Orchestra under Nicolás Pasquet, and they play with commitment and especial finesse in the winds. One for those curious about followers of C.P.E. Bach and admirers of the Mannheim aesthetic.

Jonathan Woolf



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