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Joseph Martin KRAUS (1756-1792)
Ballet Music
Pantomime in D major VB 37 (c.1769-72) [7:41]
Fiskarena VB 40 (1789) [50:25]
Pantomime in G major VB 38 (c.1769) [7:56] (reconstructed by Bertil van Boer)
Ballet Music for Gluck’s Armide VB 39 (1787) [3:38]
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Petter Sundkvist
rec. Concert Hall, Örebro, Sweden, 16-19 May 2005
Booklet notes in English and German
NAXOS 8.557498 [69:39]
Experience Classicsonline

Joseph Martin Kraus was almost an exact contemporary of Mozart and has been dubbed ‘the Swedish Mozart’. He was born five months after Mozart on 20 June 1756 and died a year and ten days after the great composer on 15 December 1792. He was actually born in Miltenberg in Germany but moved to Stockholm in 1778 to work in the court of King Gustav III. I first came across Kraus thanks to the initial CD in the Naxos series dedicated to him. It contained the overture to Olympie and three rather remarkable symphonies which I came to love. Volumes 2, 3 and 4 of the series followed without too protracted a delay and I was hooked. Why hadn’t I heard of Kraus before? Geography can sometimes act against such recognition and it didn’t help that several of Kraus’s symphonies had been misattributed to other composers for many years.
Like Haydn in Eszterháza, Kraus’s isolation from mainstream Europe caused him to develop along an original musical path. Some of his earlier music sounds a little like Stürm und Drang Haydn, while some of the last music has a Romantic style that makes one wish he had lived into the nineteenth century. Then we might have seen some fireworks! Kraus had a wonderful lyrical gift. Some of his melodies rival Mozart’s in their seeming endlessness – something one hears several times in the aforementioned symphonies.
So what of this issue? I was keen to hear it and discover some more of this remarkable composer’s work. The first thing to say is that this music is far lighter than many of the symphonies. This was written for the theatre, not for solemn occasions. The two Pantomimes which sandwich the main item on this disc, the ballet Fiskarena, were written while Kraus was still a young student in Mannheim and the circumstances surrounding their composition remain a mystery. Were one not to know the title, the first Pantomine in D might pass off quite comfortably as a three-movement sinfonia. It is attractive music but gives little away of what was to come, although the beautiful solo oboe writing in the Adagio already displays Kraus’s melodic talents. Bertil van Boer, editor of Kraus’s music (hence the ‘VB’ numbers) and writer of the excellent booklet notes, suggests that the Pantomine in G is an even earlier work than its D major counterpart. Its music is more four-square and the insertion of a short March between the first and slow movements gives this Pantomime more the character of a divertimento. The two movements Kraus composed for insertion into a 1787 Royal Stockholm Opera production of Gluck’s Armide are attractive trifles – pure ballet music.
The main fare on this CD is the dramatic ballet Fiskarena (The Fishermen). It was first staged on 9 March 1789 by the Royal Opera and won immediate popularity. The plot and choreography have long been lost and so any suggestions as to the goings-on in the Overture and twenty brief numbers that follow can only be educated guesses. This matters not a jot, however as the music is attractive enough to stand on its own, including two nautical hornpipe-like Angloises and a gipsy Ungherese just before the rousing Contradanza Finale.
This CD, then, reveals a lighter side to Kraus’s art than that in earlier instalments in this series. It is a side to which the composer was firmly committed in Stockholm and so it is important in the appreciation of Kraus’s work to have this illuminating disc.
As in earlier volumes of this Kraus series, the Swedish Chamber Orchestra under Petter Sundkvist play these works as if by second nature, revealing their delightful colours and intricacies. The recording matches the performances perfectly, with a natural and well-balanced acoustic that allows the music to speak entirely for itself.
Derek Warby

see also reviews by Tim Perry and Jonathan Woolf


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