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Franz Xaver RICHTER (1709-1789)
Six Grandes Symphonies (1744): Sinfonia I in Bb major (No. 63) [12.57]; Sinfonia II in F major (No. 40) [9.32]; Sinfonia III in C minor (No. 13) [11.38]; Sinfonia IV in F major (No. 34) [12.29]; Sinfonia V in F major (No. 36) [13.42]; Sinfonia VI in Bb major (No. 64) [13.08]
Helsinki Baroque Orchestra/Aapo Häkkinen
rec. Olari Church, Espoo, Finland, 16-18 October 2005
NAXOS 8.557818 [73.26] 


As I was driving to school a few weeks ago, for some singular reason I put Classic FM on the radio and found myself listening to a piece I did not really recognize. It reminded me a little of Vivaldi with its insistence on sequences. It had a driving rhythm but also had a seriousness of purpose especially in its earnest, fugal counterpoint which seemed to be rather Germanic. Simon Bates then announced that it was the first movement from Richter’s 1st Sinfonia; a disc he has “just recently discovered”. I then realized that I did have some recognition of this piece because I had already started to listen to the CD in preparing for this review. 

I was then encouraged to read a quote in the accompanying booklet notes by Allan Badley. It was from Dr. Charles Burney, the musicologist (1726-1814) whose entire book I would love to get hold of. This said that Burney had criticized Richter who “occasionally weakened his melodic lines by over-use of the sequence” but praised “his inventive if conservative approach to thematic construction”. Vivaldi was inordinately fond of sequential repetition and Richter can be also. You can hear this in the first movement of Sinfonia III, however these sequences never jar. They are never over-done and successfully lead the music through its structure.

Joseph Haydn is often called ‘The Father of the Symphony’ as he composed at least 104 of them by 1800. However, it’s interesting to consider that when Haydn was just three years old Richter had already composed at least 64. That is unless I have misunderstood the numbering which here ranges from 13 to 64. 

Richter writes only for strings. His works date from before the full advent of the ‘Mannheim School’ under Johann Stamitz (1771-1757) which took Europe and Mozart and Haydn by storm a few years later. Richter was not a part of that school but his music has the passion, drama and drive associated with Stamitz most of whose symphonies date from c.1750. Richter’s first movements are clearly in what we now call sonata-form or, as it was called then, ‘first movement form’. Like Stamitz’s early symphonies Richter normally has three movements, with a slow middle one. This may be very short or more likely a still and thoughtful melody over simple harmonies. Only in the Sinfonia VI does Richter diverge from that, with an Andante which is rather too similar in tempo and material to the preceding Allegro ma non presto. The performers are, I am sure, only doing what they think Richter intended.

Movement 3 is often fast and short. Sinfonia III ends with a very brief Minuet. Sinfonia VI ends with an even briefer one at 1.44. This latter work is curious in that it opens, uniquely with a pompous slow introduction which although separately tracked ends on the dominant. It must therefore be seen as a lead into the ‘Fuga’ which follows. The next movement is an Andante which at almost six minutes seems to outstay its welcome. The finale is a rather unsuccessful and again very brief Minuet. This Sinfonia VI is best seen as an experimental divergence from formal layout. It might be interesting to hear more Richter in case he experimented further at a later date. 

The Helsinki Baroque Orchestra play on original instruments with passion and clarity, I love their balanced and warm sound but a sound which also has a cutting edge. 

Aapo Häkkinen achieves a terrific sense of balance and chooses ideal tempi with the exception of the first two movements in Sinfonia VI. He makes a fine difference between the Spiritoso opening movement of Sinfonia IV and the Presto finale of Sinfonia V. A harpsichord is used as an almost inaudible continuo. 

Highlights? Well there are several. The whole of Sinfonia I is gripping and holds ones attention. The same applies to the still slow movement of Sinfonia IV and the memorable melodic invention of the equivalent movement of Sinfonia V. I shouldn’t worry too much; to be honest the whole disc should give much pleasure. I noticed that it’s cheaper than a bottle of fairly average Niersteiner and, ultimately, considerably more fulfilling. Buy it.

Gary Higginson

see also Review by Tim Perry




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