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Johann Gottfried MÜTHEL (1728-1788)
Concertos and Chamber Music

CD 1
Polonaise in G major for Flute, 2 Violins, Violoncello and Harpsichord [3:24]
Duet in C major for 2 Harpsichords [19:11] 
Sonata in D major for Flute and Harpsichord [16:01]
Polonaise in F major and B flat major for 2 Violins and Violoncello [3:08]
Sonata in F major for Harpsichord (pub.1756) [15:26]
CD 2
Concerto in B flat major for Harpsichord and Strings [25:15]
Concerto in E flat major for 2 Bassoons, Strings and basso continuo [25:00]
Concerto D minor for 2 Bassoons, Strings and basso continuo [24:15]
Gregor Hollmann (harpsichord)
Bernward Lohr (harpsichord II)
Rhoda Patrick; Frances Eustace (bassoons)
Musica Alta Ripa
rec. 25 May 1988 and 5-9 December 1992, Dabringhaus und Grimm Audiovision, Bachstrasse 35, Detmold.
MUSIKPRODUKTION DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG3090452-2 [60:34 + 74:53]
Experience Classicsonline

Johann Gottfried Müthel was born into a period in which the younger generation of composers was seeking ways to grow beyond the perceived conservatism of J.S. Bach’s baroque “scholarly” style. Lothar Hoffmann-Erbrecht succinctly describes the most significant musical trends in his booklet notes for this release, those in which for instance C.P.E. Bach sought to bring a greater emphasis in emotional sensitivity; “Empfindsamkeit”. The attempt was made to create a more expressive art with wider flexibility and a general expansion of forms and the direct communication of mood through compositional and performance techniques. Composers were restricted to a certain extent by the desires of their employers, but as part of the creative engines in high society they could become leaders in the in-and-out tides of ever-changing fashion.

Müthel straddled the world of the old and the new like few others, having been one of the blind old polyphonic master J.S. Bach’s last pupils. He subsequently became acquainted with wider styles on travels through cultural centres such as Dresden, Hamburg and Potsdam, by the end of which he would have encountered musical worlds which included the expressive keyboard writing of C.P.E. Bach. Müthel soon broke free of court exclusivity, and made a career in Riga as, among other things, organist of St. Peter’s church. Isolating himself from offers of work in Germany, he eventually projected a somewhat eccentric image to the outside world. For instance, he apparently refused to give piano recitals other than in winter, when the snow muffled the clattering of passing coaches in the streets outside. This seems quite a sensible idea to me, like not trying to do recording sessions when building works are in progress. A rare surviving letter shows Müthel to have a sharp clarity of vision when it came to his own work ethic, criticising composers who are too prolific, and pointing out that one who works “more sparingly and only when the mind is rested... will think and write in a new and vigorous manner.” In this way, Müthel shows the way for the ideals in originality of much later composers and artists, something like that ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’ idea. This is also an explanation for the relative rarity of his works when compared with J.S. Bach or Telemann.

Müthel’s composition is largely instrumental, and the collection on this 2CD set covers a substantial amount of solo and chamber music, with the second disc concentrating on concertos. Müthel’s important contribution to piano music is represented by the Piano Sonata in F which shows an awareness of C.P.E. Bach in the principal theme of the first movement, but nonetheless shows a strong sense of individual character. The composer’s own virtuosity at the instrument must have been prodigious, and the central Largo e staccato is filled with highly eloquent, almost operatic rhetoric and drama. The harpsichord sound is full and dynamic, with plenty of shifts in register – more than adequate for expressing music which embodies the “Sturm und Drang” to which it belongs. Lighter sounds emanate from the three popular Polonaise dances in the programme, and Musica Alta Ripa’s compulsive spirit with those energetic rhythms give one some idea as to why this genre of music caught on in such a big way in this period.

The Duett for two harpsichords has its precedents in works by J.S. Bach and others, but sees Müthel transporting the older concerto forms for this kind of work into the newer sonata form. Entrancing dialogue, sweeping bravura gestures and plenty of rhythmic and harmonic subtlety make this a work which can grab the attention on numerous repeated hearings, and the final Allegro movement is particularly groovy. The Sonata for flute and continuo is particularly demanding for the soloist, but Karl Kaiser’s traverso sails untroubled through reams of embellishments and trills. The structure of this sonata is unusual, ignoring the conventional fast-slow-fast pattern of movements, adopting instead an Adagio-Allegro ma no troppo-Cantabile structure. Again, the work holds ones attention via a seemingly endless resource of surprises and unpredictable twists and turns.

The influences of J.S. and C.P.E. Bach on Müthel’s concertos provides a basis for their broad structure, but sees the composer freeing and extending the relationship between soloist and orchestra. The B flat major Concerto for harpsichord and strings is full of complexities, which introduce some of the stormier writing of Vivaldi to some extended ‘recitative’ style and more lyrical passages for the soloist.

The earthy sound of the two soloists in the Concerto for two bassoons, strings and basso continuo provide a healthy contrast to what might otherwise have become a harpsichord-heavy programme. The interplay between the two instruments can become an almost comic battle of virtuosity in the opening Allegro, or an animated conversation between two old men in the recitativo sections. The slow movement is unexpectedly expressive, full of suspensions and chromatic shifts. The 3/8 finale is a joyous romp, with the soloists finally unifying in a satisfying musical friendship.

The key of D minor frequently had connotations of dark passions in the 18th century tradition, and the Concerto for harpsichord, 2 bassoons, strings and basso continuo has a seriousness of aspect which supports this. Moody drama seems to evoke sweeping cloaks and masked villains in this music, and while the thematic material is often lead by the first violin there is often much busy passage work for the lower instruments, providing darker colours than with the other concertos.

There are a few alternative recordings of Müthel’s work around, but none of which gather so much of it into one place as this set. Listed as a new release but with a 1994 copyright date on the packaging I’m not sure quite how this adds up, but in any case this is a lively programme of some of the juiciest pre-classical post-baroque music you will find anywhere. This musical period was the one I attempted to study as a rather badly prepared 1st year B-Mus student at the R.A.M., and I might have fared better had I been more aware of the kind of music Johann Gottfried Müthel has to offer. With more easily categorised composers infesting the catalogue with increasing multiples of over-familiar works, this is one release which may go some way towards redressing the balance in favour of those who occupy the under-researched period between the baroque and the classical. The performances are all excellent, and the recordings first class.

Dominy Clements


 


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