FUX (c.1660-1741) Overture in D, N4 [20:08] Concerto in D, ‘Le dolcezze e I’amarezze della notte,
E112 [13:56] Intrada in C, E62 [9:33] Suite in C, N83 [15:08] Rondeau, E111 [4:47]
Barockorchester/Gottfried von der Goltz
rec. April, 2006, Paulussaal, Freiburg, Germany. DDD CARUS 83.308 [63:58]
The musical background of Fux is largely unknown to us – if
not actually rather perplexing: he suddenly appeared in musical
Vienna and rapidly became Court Music Director to the Habsburgs,
arguably the most important position open to any musician
in the whole of Europe.
Born the year after Purcell, in Graz, his musical talents
were obvious as a child and his early training must have
led him - via a law degree in Ingolstadt which he did not
complete - to Vienna, where he was married at 36 and was
working as imperial court composer as well as music director
at St Stephen’s cathedral before he was forty. Further prestigious
court appointments followed and amongst his pupils were Muffat
and Zelenka. Fux died at the age of 80 having composed numerous
masses and oratorios – indeed about two thirds of his extensive
output was sacred music.
He also composed operas and orchestral pieces. His most
famous work, the influential composition primer, Gradus
ad Parnassum, was used particularly for the analysis
and study of counterpoint as perfected by Palestrina well
into the twentieth century long after his compositions had
become largely unknown. Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven all used Gradus
ad Parnassum. Fux is due for a revival once more: his
work is original, well constructed and – above all – amply
varied in tone and invention.
The five instrumental works on the CD reviewed here were
probably written around 1700; they’re associated with name-days
and birthdays of members of the Imperial Family in Vienna.
The playing of the Freiburger Barockorchester under von der
Goltz is superb; it truly sparkles yet is considered and
free of all affectation. Transparent and successfully putting
the music first, the ensemble and virtuoso work is without
a single weakness. The delight conferred on the listener
of the lively and original repertoire together with such
high quality playing mean that this CD can be thoroughly
recommended. Everything except the simple Rondeau in C (also
based on dance), which ends this perhaps a little short-measured
offering at just under an hour and four minutes, is a world
Some of the seven movements of the Overture (the
longest work here at twenty minutes) have birds’ names and
are inspired both by birds and dance music. The Freiburgers
make the most of this without being the extra sounds becoming
intrusive; they get the programme - which actually does have
an internal integrity to it stylistically: this is not a
mere ‘collection’ of Fux - off to an upbeat start. The Overture has
bouncy, sprung and somewhat chromatic music redolent of Lully.
The precision with which the Freiburger Barockorchester executes
the at times complex rhythms and delights in the fresh and
rich sonorities is exemplary.
The descriptive Concerto in D, ‘The Night’s Sweetnesses
and Bitternesses’, does have elements of a tone poem; one
is intrigued by the way the Night Watchman’s striking song
is woven into a richer contrapuntal whole, and why. This
is an evocative five-movement serenade with some of the most
beautiful music on the CD. The dynamic is nicely varied;
the music never loses direction and the structure is clearly
exposed by the performers.
The Intrada is actually a Suite in the sense that
it too is composed of four truly entrancing dance movements
with what is effectively a concerto for violino piccolo with
a cadenza and many virtuosic opportunities. For some not
attuned to the idiom, there was always a minimal danger that
these works could sound too similar one to another. Not the
case here – they’re as inventive as the Handel suites they
at times resemble - nor throughout the entire disc.
For example, just as you have settled into one of the five
movements of the Suite In C, the mood changes, the
tempo contrasts and the orchestral colour invites you to
catch it up. Splendid. It’s a processional experiment, almost.
The four-part string ensemble is augmented by woodwinds,
brass and timpani making for some of the most harmoniously
and melodically exciting music on the CD. This is music clearly
at the end of the mid-European Baroque: the Freiburgers have
avoided the temptation to look either forward to the more
personal style of classical composers or elsewhere to roots
in Purcell, Lully and Vivaldi. The result is an alert, joyful
and colourful experience.
But this is to say little of the variety and beauty of
the music. There are 22 separate pieces on this CD and every
one has something different to offer. If there were a criticism,
it might be that the recording is a little too reverberant – in
places. The Paulussaal in Freiburg is not exactly dry in
acoustic and is well known for its fidelity to musical detail
and depth. Yet at times the engineers appear to have enhanced
the sound; unnecessarily and a touch intrusively; and a little
to the detriment of the strings.
The CD’s liner notes are informative and easy to read,
despite the odd spelling mistake and have a striking photograph
of the twenty-strong Freiburger Barockorchester. If you want
to explore some of the more intriguing avenues of the Austro-Hungarian
late-Baroque, be taken into some fresh ensemble realms or
just to enjoy wonderful and original music from the time
of J.S. Bach which sounds nothing like Bach, this is a CD
to consider very seriously.
see also review by Jonathan Woolf
Note There are two catalogues of the works of Fux: N numbers
from Federhofer and Liess and
E numbers from Hochradner
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