Johann Stamitz is a name well known in musical history, but his voice is seldom heard. This latest Naxos disc of flute concertos - two volumes of symphonies and one of orchestral trios are already available - is therefore a welcome release.
Famous as a virtuoso violinist and then as Kapellmeister of the celebrated Mannheim court orchestra, Stamitz presided over the establishment of that band of players and over the development of what became the ‘Mannheim style’ – disciplined playing, thrilling dynamics and innovative instrumentation. He played a key role in developing the symphonic form, and in transforming musical composition from the Baroque style to the nascent Classical sound.
As well as symphonies, Stamitz left behind a large number of concertos, including fourteen for flute. The four featured on this disc probably date from the 1750s and may well have been played by the Elector Carl Theodor, and by Mannheim virtuoso Johann Baptist Wendling, who so impressed Mozart on his visit to Paris in 1763 and Mannheim in 1777-78.
They are beautiful works, but the main problem is that there is little to distinguish one from the other. The two D major concertos in particular sound very much alike, although the horn parts in the second at least differentiate it from it predecessor. The C major concerto’s shift into C minor for the slow Andante offers some tonal variety, while rapid triplet figures for the soloist in the first movement keep the momentum alive.
But one cannot escape the feeling that these works were really vehicles for Wendling’s – or someone else’s – prodigious talents. Attention therefore falls on soloist Robert Aitken. His flawless technique and lightness of touch make him perfectly suited to this kind of repertoire. He is particularly impressive in the hugely demanding cadenzas in each concerto, although his forward positioning in the recording can make the flute sound a little shrill on the ear in some of the higher registers.
For their part, the St Christopher (formerly Vilnius) Chamber Orchestra under Donatus Katkus have few opportunities to shine. Nevertheless, they keep the accompaniment chugging along nicely, hinting at Haydnesque and Mozartian sounds to come.