Naxos continues to explore lesser known Classical
My 1922 complete edition of Grove’s ‘Dictionary
of Music and Musicians’ does not even have an
entry for Vaňhal which goes to demonstrate how for
many years his music fell out of favour. However, interest
in Vaňhal and his contemporaries has clearly increased
greatly as a quick check in the latest edition of ‘Grove
Music Online’ reveals a substantial amount of biographical
information including a works list.
Vaňhal was born in Nechanice, Bohemia in 1739 out
of Czech peasant stock who were indentured to the Schaffgotsch
estates. Despite his unprivileged beginnings He was taught
to sing and to play various string, keyboard and wind instruments.
Soon he was able to provide for himself by working as an
organist and as a choirmaster in local townships. Vaňhal
found himself a wealthy sponsor when the Countess Schaffgotsch
became aware of his talents and persuaded him to move to
Vienna around 1760.
In Vienna he obtained lessons from the eminent violinist
and composer Karl von Dittersdorf, who as an associate of
the distinguished composers Haydn and Gluck, was extremely
well connected. A highly prolific composer it was said that
Vaňhal was the first composer to earn his living entirely
from writing and performing music and eventually his music
became much admired was widely performed. Around the 1760s
to 1780s he had become established as one of the foremost
composers in the important musical centre of Vienna.
It is said that Vaňhal was an accomplished violinist
but not of a virtuoso standard such as his contemporaries
Dittersdorf and Hoffman. For a time Vaňhal toured extensively
around Europe and moved in the most exalted of musical circles..
This is born out by the popular anecdote that at a recital
in Vienna in 1784, that was organised by the composer Stephen
Storace, Vaňhal played the cello in a true ‘superstar’ string
quartet line-up, with Haydn as the first violin; Von Dittersdorf
as second violin and Mozart on viola.
Having had the financial resources to break free from
the indentures of his families serfdom and to achieve considerable
fame in his chosen vocation, for the final thirty or so years
of his life, it seems that Vaňhal progressively withdrew
from public life and died in Vienna in 1813.
Vaňhal wrote an extremely large number of compositions,
in a wide range of genres, many of which have not survived.
To give an indication of the extent of his substantial output,
he has been attributed with writing around 34 symphonies;
94 string quartets; over 100 trios; 48 masses, 20 keyboard
concertos, as well as 17 violin concertos plus a large amount
of other works. Evidently Alexander Weinmann in 1988 managed
to catalogue Vaňhal scores. However, the challenging
nature of the sources is such that it seems rare to obtain
exact composition dates.
In addition to his renowned prowess on the violin and
also, I understand, the cello Vaňhal evidently played
several other instruments. He wrote a substantial amount
of concertos, including many for woodwind, and it seems highly
likely that he was able to play many of the various wind
instruments to a reasonable standard. An attractive recent
release on Talent Records DOM 2910 75 of Concertos for
Clarinet; Oboe; Bassoon and two Bassoons demonstrates
Vaňhal’s clear understanding and predilection for woodwind
writing, as well as that for the violin.
In October 1777 Mozart wrote to his father
that he had given a performance of Vaňhal’s Violin
Concerto in B flat in the Heilig-Kreuz
church at Augsburg to “universal
applause”. Mozart knew the violin well and had by 1775
composed five violin concertos. It seems inconceivable that
Mozart would have played a concerto that he considered to
be less than an excellent in standard.
The three violin concertos contained on
this disc were all thought to have been composed earlier
than 1775. All three follow a similar pattern in a three
movement layout that contains an opening Allegro moderato;
a central Adagio and a closing Allegro. The
motifs are reasonably attractive and the composer develops
them with skill and imagination. It seems an unfair comparison
to make but when compared to the genius of his younger contemporary
Mozart, Vaňhal’s music is without the same warmth, the
depth of expression, the variety and memorability, with orchestral
accompaniment that tends to be rather spare.
The opening work on the release is the Violin Concerto in G major which at 27 minutes is the longest
of the three. One is immediately struck by the virtuosic
writing that Takako Nishizaki takes in her stride. The music
takes the listener in its slipstream giving the illusion
that it should be played with a quicker tempo.. I experienced
the slow movement as stylish, passionate and tender in character..
The closing movement is given a rather measured pace and
in the virtuosic passages at 2:18-2:44 and 9:10-9:51 one
feels that the music needs to propel itself forward.. Placed
towards the conclusion of the movement at 9:59-10:56 the cadenza is
delightfully played by Nishizaki.
Vaňhal uses the same key of G major
in the next Violin
the release. One notices the attractiveness of the main subjects
and the melodic and fluid cadenza at 5:57-6:45 is
impressively performed by Nishizaki.. The slow central movement,
similar in nature to that of the opening concerto, is in
Nishizaki’s hands affectionate and yearning. I found the
playing in final movement Allegro light and high spirited.
Here Nishizaki’s tempo is reasonably swift and her dexterity
in the extended passagework between 3:54-4:53 is exemplary.
I thoroughly enjoyed the spirited, robust and highly virtuosic cadenza at
The final score on the release is the exhilarating and
lyrical Violin Concerto in B flat major. With
the exception of the orchestral opening Vaňhal makes
his soloist work hard being almost fully occupied. The first
and second motifs are attractive and extensively developed
and the main subject is featured in the cadenza at
7:22-8:13. Vaňhal has lost all sense of high spirits
in the rather serious disposition of the Adagio movement that is given a graceful and languid reading by Nishizaki.
A swift and stately pace in the closing movement Allegro from
Nishizaki in melodies that have a certain Vivaldi-like character.
There are some excellent bravura episodes but nothing to
overtax a soloist of Nishizaki’s standard. The brief cadenza at
7:00-7:35 is highly appealing.
Helmut Müller-Brühl and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra
provide Takako Nishizaki with high quality accompaniment
throughout using modern instruments with period performance
practice. The sound quality from the Naxos engineers is vivid
with just a hint of sharpness evident with the horn. As an
expert on late 18th and early 19th century music and a specialist
of Vaňhal’s Viennese contemporaries: Haydn; Mozart
and Beethoven, Allan Badley’s credentials are impeccable
and his booklet notes are most authoritative.
I can’t imagine Vaňhal being
anything other than overjoyed by the superb playing of Takako
Nishizaki on this captivating and invigorating disc..
Reviews of other Vanhal recordings on Naxos
Symphonies Vol. 2 - 8.554138
Vol. 3 - 8.557483
Masses - 8.555080