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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
see also Review
by Tim Perry