AK Coburg have been quietly working away
at building Draeseke's niche in the record catalogue. While
CPO has several Draeseke discs AK Coburg have many more featuring
Draeseke's chamber works. It's not so much a niche now as a
major platform. I rather hope that Draeseke can look down on
the industry of Alan Krueck and his collaborators because I
am sure he would want to thank these dedicated angels for making
his music available again. And there are yet more Draeseke CDs
to come. Not that many classical music enthusiasts would know
anything about them. What is it with the major broadcasters
and the many CD review publications (Fanfare excluded) that
they are not prepared to admit or review the industry and achievement
of such enterprises and a host of others? The classical music
world that they present is a narrow consumptive creature by
comparison with the reality. Organisations such as AK Coburg
deserve the oxygen of publicity.
In the case of the all-Draeseke disc the
listener is treated to two string quintets one of which has
a very recondite feature. It includes a part for violotta although
in this case it is played by a second cello.
The history of music and the annals of
patent offices down the ages are littered with the corpses of
instruments that never quite made it. These discs tell us of
two and in the case of the second disc lets us hear them as
The violotta was one of a range of re-engineered
string instruments produced by Dr Alfred Stelzner (1852-1906).
The violotta is a sort of tenor viola 42cm long. It was tuned
an octave below the violin fifths.
The first two movements of the Draeseke
Stelzner work are a melodic continuum unfolding in a
continuous easeful singing sense of motion. The third movement
provides much needed contrast with its ripe pizzicato and contrasting
grace. These are two melodically dense and engagingly grave
quintets. Highlights are the Langsam of the Op. 77 work
and the scherzo of the Stelzner work. The WoO25 quintet
has a classical air reminiscent of Haydn while the Stelzner
quintet for string quartet with additional cello (rather
than the specified violotta) has a more romantic Brahmsian character.
The music ebbs, flows, yearns and releases as well as casting
admiring glances towards Smetana and Beethoven.
The notes for both discs are thorough
and I have made shameless use of them in this review. The works
themselves are described in a level of technical analytical
detail that will leave many in the starting blocks but there
is so much other fascinating factual background that it's clear
we have sacrificed nothing in the way of description of milieu.
The second disc from AK Coburg features
the Draeseke Stelzner work, this time with the violotta
part played on the instrument for which it was intended. There's
also the Arnold Krug string sextet including parts for two
Stelzner 'creatures', the cellone and the violotta, alongside
the usual quartet specification. Draeseke's Op. 77 piece features
only the violotta in addition to the standard string quartet.
Comparing the versions of the Draeseke
Stelzner work Summit Players are two minutes quicker
than the Acantus. The Summit group
are more deliberately shaped in the finale which by contrast
has an exhilarating swing in the hands of the Acantus. On the
other hand, in the first movement, the Acantus sound not quite
as tangily auburn-toned in the bass line. This is no doubt down
to the presence of the authentic violotta. The Summit team project
a bright woody pizzicato where the Acantus pizzicato is more
silvery and aerated - a very agreeable sound but possibly not
what Draeseke intended.
The cellone used in the Krug work is slightly
larger than a standard cello and sounds deeper. Its four strings
are tuned to fifths, one octave below the violotta. Its music
is notated in the bass clef and is sounded without transposition.
All Stelzner's instruments employ high quality spruce or maple.
It is reckoned that before the business collapsed Stelzner had
made some 330 instruments including slight variants of the violin
and viola. Stelzner also composed. Stelzner was also a composer.
His operas are designed to show off the distinctive timbre of
his instruments. Rubezahl in four acts appeared at the
Dresden Court Theatre in 1902. The next year there was a one-acter called
Swatowits ende which was premiered in Kassel. There are two others: Cecilia in five acts and
Kinder des Todes in two acts. Max von Schillings included
a solo part for the violotta in his opera Der Pfeifertag.
Sadly Stelzner's instruments died after their creator's death
in 1906 of suicide due to bankruptcy.
Krug was born in Hamburg as was
Stelzner. He went to Leipzig to study with Reinecke. After qualifying he took a teaching
post at Berlin's Stern Conservatory. There he was much associated with
Friedrich Kiel. He returned to Hamburg to work at the Conservatory in 1878. His catalogue is
thronged with choral and vocal works but tucked in there is
a Violin Concerto and a Symphony. Sounds like a typical CPO
project in germ.
The Krug sextet was one of two pieces
submitted as entries in a competition run in 1896 by the Dresden
Conservatory for works including Stelzner instruments. The other
work was a similarly specified sextet by Eduard Behm (1862-1946).
Alan Krueck's satisfyingly detailed notes mention one other
such work which excluded the cellone in favour of the double
bass. This was the sextet by Austrian composer Theodore Streicher
(1874-1939). I can see that there is another disc to come from
some enterprising company. It's rather surprising that Ludwig
Thuille did not try his hand at a work including the Stelzner
The Krug Sextet is written in grateful
melodic paragraphs that are often touchingly Mendelssohnian.
He draws sighing romance from the six players and his themes
have a satisfying rise and fall which I thought close to Grieg.
The second movement makes telling use of hesitations.
The sentimental and very brief Süße
Melancholie sometimes recalls Tchaikovsky's Souvenir
de Florence and towards the end makes inventive use of the
bass sonorities of the string quintet including the two Stelzner
instruments. This piece was originally for solo piano. It was
specially arranged as an encore as a thank you to the
cellist Barbara Thiem with whom Müller-Steinbach recorded Draeseke's
complete music for cello and piano on AK Coburg DR0002.
It is intriguing to note that Draeseke
also wrote works for at least one other experimental instrument
that never made it into the instrumental pantheon. There are
two sonatas for Herman Ritter's viola arpa and piano.
There are excellent colour photographs
of the cellone and violotta in the booklet and insert for the
You should not expect dramatic sonic differences
from the Stelzner instruments. I wonder if I would have noticed
had I not been told they were there. There is perhaps a more
densely baritonal sound to the ensemble works but that is with
the benefit of hindsight. This remains however a fascinating
obiter in the history of music. Clearly if your primary
interest is in Draeseke then you should turn to DR0004 recorded
in 2001. Those fascinated by the Stelzner experiment need the
2005 disc DR 0010. And it would be a mistake to write off the
Krug as of interest only because of the two Stelzner instruments.
It’s well worth hearing in its own right.