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Sarah Beth Briggs
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Violin Concerto in C major, VB 151 [30:11]
Olympie: Incidental Music, VB 33 [20:58]
Azire: Ballet Music, VB 18 [7:27]
Nishizaki (violin), New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Uwe Grodd
rec. 4-6 September 2006, Wellington Town Hall, Wellington,
New Zealand. DDD
Joseph Martin KRAUS (1756-1792)
Pantomime in D, VB 37 [7:41]
Fiskarena, VB 40 [50:25]
Pantomime in G, VB 38 [7:56]
Ballet music for Gluck’s Armide, VB 39 [3:38]
Chamber Orchestra/Petter Sundkvist
rec. 16-19 May 2005, Orebro Concert Hall, Sweden. DDD
Naxos series celebrating the music of Joseph Martin Kraus is
one of the glories of the partnership between Allan Badley’s
Artaria Editions and Klaus Heymann’s innovative label. Born
in the same year as Mozart and dying only a year after his
more famous contemporary, Kraus was an original and exciting
composer, whose talent was recognised by Gluck and Haydn: the
latter referred to him as one of the only two geniuses he knew,
the other being Mozart.
four Naxos discs of Kraus's surviving symphonies (see review of
Vol.4 in that series) are compulsory acquisitions for anyone
with an interest in the music of the Classical period. They
show Kraus at his most daring, a composer whose Sturm und
Drang vibrancy rivals that of Haydn.
two new discs, both useful additions to the Kraus discography,
reveal a softer side of Kraus. They showcase his talent as
a composer for the stage and demonstrate that this master of
drama and innovation could also write music to soothe and cheer.
first of these discs opens with the world premiere recording
of Kraus’ violin concerto in C major, alongside first recordings
of some of his incidental music and scraps of ballet. Kraus
the performer was a violinist first and keyboard player second – the
opposite of Mozart. While comparisons with Mozart’s violin
concertos are inevitable, Kraus’s concerto is stylistically
first movement is broad and beautiful and comes across as the
opening movement of a symphony with violin solo rather than
of a violin concerto proper. Certainly its length – greater
than that of the remaining movements together – gives Kraus
ample space for full symphonic development. There is little
combat between soloist and orchestra here. The violin’s contribution
is lyrical, even when Kraus demands the soloist’s utmost virtuosity
as he explores the violin’s technical capabilities. The slow
movement has a wonderful singing quality, with the violin dipping
and soaring in long languid lines above a responsive, pellucid
base of strings. The slim winds and brass having nothing to
contribute here. The finale is a lightly dancing rondo of understated
virtuosity. A composer of Kraus’s Sturm und Drang credentials
and recognized skill as a violinist may have been expected
to finish off a violin concerto with fireworks, and sure enough
the liner notes disclose that the concerto’s original finale
was a pacy scherzo. Why Krause replaced that finale with this
gentler one is a matter of conjecture. In any case, it feels
of a piece with the rest of the concerto.
Nishizaki plays the concerto with grace and expression. She
is up to Kraus’ challenges and is able to conquer them unobtrusively,
letting the music sing. She receives warm support from the
trimmed down New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Uwe Grodd.
incidental music to the tragedy Olympie is remarkable
for its superb overture. Its broad, brooding introduction foreshadows
Beethoven’s Egmont – though it is doubtful that Beethoven
would ever have heard it – and the allegro is dynamically exciting
and crackles with energy. This is the overture’s second recording
on Naxos. It first appeared on Naxos’s first disc of the Kraus
symphonies (8.553734). As much as I admire Grodd and his New
Zealanders for their genial warmth of sound, I prefer Petter
Sundkvist and his Swedish Chamber Orchestra in this music for
the greater bite of their attack and the excitement they whip
rest of the incidental music consists of a march, four entr’actes
and a postlude. The march and first interlude feature some
delightful bassoon and clarinet interplay, but the third and
fourth entr’actes are the highlights. The former is a beguiling
courtly dance, languidly shaped by Grodd and the NZSO; the
latter is a proud minuet spiced with touches of the minor mode.
The attractive postlude returns to the atmosphere of brooding
tragedy evoked in the overture.
scraps of ballet music from Azire that close the disc
are all that remains of Kraus’s first work for the stage. It
is light and charming music, sparkling in its scoring and changes
of meter and played with obvious enjoyment by the NZSO.
Kraus’ incidental music tickles your fancy, you may want to
seek out the disc of his ballet music. It is unfailingly well
crafted, tuneful and charming.
two Pantomimes are simply structured but full of imaginative
touches and hustling violin figurations. They are essentially
short sinfonias in the Italian style, though the second interrupts
the usual three movement structure with a march movement. The
Pantomime in D is particularly impressive, its central adagio
a bucolic idyll that features lovely writing for solo oboe.
main work here is Fiskarena - a stand-alone ballet score.
This is not a Sturm und Drang score, but a charming
and colourful work which alternates joyful allegros with charming
adagios and andantes. A couple of “Anglaise” movements echo
and quote a British hornpipe, and the ballet’s penultimate
number dresses a folk-like Hungarian theme in delicate orchestration.
a pendant, Naxos offers two charming snips of ballet music
which Kraus, as principal conductor of the Stockholm Opera,
composed for insertion into Gluck’s Armide to make the
opera more appealing to Swedish audiences.
the programme, Sundkvist and his band play the music with flair.
discs are accompanied by learned booklet notes by Bertil van
Boer, who also composed the cadenza for the violin concerto
and reconstructed the Pantomime in G. His writing communicates
his enthusiasm for Kraus’ music, and when that music is played
as well as it is on these two discs, that enthusiasm is infectious.
see also reviews
of 8.557498 and
8.570334 by Jonathan Woolf
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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