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Joseph Martin KRAUS (1756-1792)
Ballet Music
Pantomime in D VB 37 (c.1769-72) [7:41]
Fiskarena VB 40 (1789) [50:25]
Pantomime in F VB 38 (c.1769) [7:56]
Ballet Music for Gluck’s Armide VB 39 (1787) [3:38]
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Petter Sundkvist
rec. Concert Hall, Orebro, May 2005 
NAXOS 8.557498 [69:39]
Experience Classicsonline

The devotion of Naxos to Kraus, the short-lived contemporary of Mozart, has borne some fine fruit of late. The bulk of this latest disc is given over to the fifty minutes that comprise the ballet music of Fiskarena (The Fishermen) of 1789. It’s an independent ballet choreographed by Antoine Bournonville and one that proved exceptionally popular on its first appearance at the Royal Theatre in Stockholm and that retained that prestige for decades afterwards.  Note writer Bertil van Boer, who has written on, and edited, the composer’s music (he wrote the first movement cadenza in the recently released Naxos recording of the Violin Concerto) tells us that this was the first work to be revived on stage in the twentieth century at the Royal Theatre.

It certainly shows a deft and polished hand for dramatic action. Fortunately, whilst neither the choreography nor the plot have survived, van Boer can give us a fairly detailed run down of the action. High amongst the selling points is a cosmopolitan approach to dance music. There are explicit homages to the Czardas and to English nauticalia amongst the essentially light-hearted moments of this commedia dell’arte influenced work.

The ballet consists of an overture and twenty separate numbers. The overture is deceptively pomposo and well orchestrated whereas the first number [track five – an Andante] breathes something of the same air as a Mozartian operatic aria – delightfully sprung all round. Fortunately we have the Swedish Chamber Orchestra on hand under Petter Sundkvist and they seem to get to the very heart of things in their lithe, supple readings. The Angloises [Nos.8 and 10] are bursting with English influence – hornpipes and rough nautical sing-songery – imagine a late eighteenth century Henry Wood and you’re near the mark. But altogether there is plenty of variety in the score – rhythmic and thematic, national tunes and vibrancy of invention. There’s nothing too serious going on, but plenty to amuse, delight and titillate the ear. Lest I give the impression that it’s all knockabout there’s a stately Andante con moto [No.16; track 20] as well as that fizzing and vibrant Ungherese.

This ballet is the feast but there’s an hors d’oeuvre in Naxos’s running order, and a dessert and also an aperitif to finish. The hors d’oeuvres is the Pantomime in D, an overture-like affair, confidently etched in three brief movements. It’s a breezy Mannheim-influenced concoction written somewhere between 1769 and 1772 notable in particularly for the expressive solo oboe writing in the slow movement. The Pantomime in G is the dessert  - slight but enjoyable – and the aperitif is Kraus’s ballet music for Gluck’s Armide. The first comes from Act I Scene III and is stately Fieramente and the second from Act IV Scene 1 – a correspondingly vital and energetic Allegro moderato. Together they last three and a half minutes.

This then is a robust and entertaining selection – captivatingly well presented by these forces, extremely well annotated and highly enjoyable.

Jonathan Woolf



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