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
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.