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Joseph Martin KRAUS (1756-1792)
Violin Concerto in C major VB 151 (1783) [30:11]
Olympie - incidental music VB 33 (1791) [20:58]
Azire - ballet music VB 18 (1779) [7:27]
Takako Nishizaki (violin)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Uwe Grodd
rec. Town Hall, Wellington, New Zealand, 4-6 September 2006
Booklet notes in English and German
NAXOS 8.570334 [58:36]
Experience Classicsonline

Joseph Martin Kraus was almost an exact contemporary of Mozart born only five months after Mozart on 20 June 1756. He died a year and ten days after Mozart on 15 December 1792.

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.
The symphony discs reveal much of Kraus’s most serious and daring music while another of ballet music – Fiskarena and two early Pantomimes – suggest that at least some of Kraus’s stage efforts were in a somewhat lighter vein. I was very curious, then, to see what this disc had to offer this die-hard Kraus fan.
This is the first disc in the series not to be recorded by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Petter Sundqvist, who also recorded the Olympie Overture which is on this CD. Here we have a chamber-sized New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under a conductor well known to collectors of various of Naxos’s Classical-period recordings, Uwe Grodd.
I listened to the Violin Concerto of 1783 several times wanting to like it more than I did. It’s a big work – the first movement is over 400 bars long and lasts more than fifteen minutes. Something about it made it outstay its welcome for me. I’m not sure the thematic material and its treatment is strong enough for so monumental a structure. The Adagio fared rather better to my ears but still did not display that wonderful soaring lyrical magic that Kraus sometimes shows us in the symphonies. The third movement is a Rondo Minuet. This replaces Kraus’s original fast-paced scherzo for reasons no one seems to be able to ascertain. It’s an attractive enough movement but I could have done with a few more fireworks after nearly half an hour.
There was something unsatisfactory to my ears about the sound of soloist Takako Nishizaki. The violin sounded too close and thin to my ears and I wonder if the finger might be pointed at the engineer/producer for that? Also, her intonation and tone were not always to my liking. These factors, I am sure, affected my overall enjoyment of the Violin Concerto which, in the end, was something of a disappointment for me.
I was looking forward to the incidental music to Olympie. An absolutely splendid rendition of the overture was on my first Kraus disc (8.553734) and I was anxious to hear the rest of the score written by Kraus for the 1792 production at the Stockholm Royal Dramatic Theatre of the adaptation of Voltaire’s play. Certainly there’s nothing much to choose between this performance and the one by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra on the earlier Naxos disc and the following short wind Marcia is delightfully pointed by the New Zealand forces. The Entr’actes are mostly short and engaging pieces and the raw drama of the Overture is never  recaptured until the haunting Postlude. However, this is attractive and colourful music that certainly rewarded my repeated listening.
The ballet music to Azire is all that remains from Kraus’s first opera for the Royal Court in Stockholm in 1779. It would seem that the emotionally charged music of the stage work is not reflected in these five very short numbers which are mere interludes in what seems to have been a very dramatic opera.
The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra plays with apparent relish and the sound is warm and full. However, I missed that last degree of refinement and transparency that I always felt with the Örebro recordings on the earlier Swedish Chamber Orchestra discs.
My slight disappointment with this disc in no way diminishes my hunger for further Kraus releases on Naxos and I look forward eagerly to further issues.
Derek Warby

see also reviews by Tim Perry and Jonathan Woolf


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