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Nikolaus KRAFT (1778-1853)
Cello Concerto No.2 in D, Op.4 (1813) [26:29]
Cello Concerto No.3 in a minor, Op.5 (1819) [24:12]
Jiri Hošek (cello)
Plzen Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hynek Farkac
rec. Czech Radio Studio Pilsen, date not given. DDD.
RADIOSERVIS CR0493-2 [50:53]

Experience Classicsonline

This CD brings a Czech label new to me and two concertos which are billed as world premiere recordings. Indeed, I don’t believe that I have ever heard any of Kraft’s music: neither he nor his father features in the Oxford Companion to Music, though they receive a short joint entry in the Concise Grove.
Mikuláš (Nikolaus) Kraft was the son of Anton or Antonín Kraft a member of the Esterházy orchestra and composition pupil of its director, Haydn. Nikolaus was born at Esterházy-Kastély, as it is now known, and no less a person than the Prince was his godfather. Father Antonín was the cellist for whom Haydn composed his two cello concertos and a soloist in the premiere of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. Though Antonín encouraged his son to obtain a good all-round education before specialising on the cello, it was almost inevitable that he would gravitate towards that instrument. He played with the Lobkowitz Orchestra and Schuppanzigh Quartet until an accident to a finger ended his playing days. Like his father, he also composed a small repertoire of pieces, mostly for the cello.
There is little likelihood that Kraft’s Cello Concertos would ever be rated as highly as those of Haydn or Beethoven, but the two included here are attractive enough and often more. The notes in the booklet compare his music with that of Hummel and Romberg, which seems to me apt – early Romantic music on the cusp of the transition from Classicism. If you already know and like Haydn’s two Cello Concertos, of which the more recently discovered Concerto No.1 in C is my own favourite, and the Beethoven Triple, this new recording could well be for you. They are more dramatic works than either of the Haydn concertos, though they also have their rhapsodic and lyrical moments.
I have no benchmark with which to compare the performances, but the soloist and accompaniment are much more than competent. The recording is dedicated to the memory of the soloist’s father, also Jirí Hošek, and to the town of Rokycany, the home town of Antonín Kraft. Neither has any cause to be aggrieved at the dedication.
Hošek junior is a former student of the distinguished cellist and academic Miloš Sádlo, who performed the modern premiere of the Haydn Cello Concerto in C; his 1962 Supraphon recording once briefly available on Classics for Pleasure was my introduction to that work. That performance has been equalled but never excelled; I’m sufficiently impressed with Hošek that I should certainly like to hear him record it, preferably with a more apt companion than the Grützmacher/Boccherini which was Sádlo’s coupling. The booklet credits him with several recordings, but none of these appear to be readily available in the UK, apart from the recording of Kraft’s First Cello Concerto (below).
I had not come across the Plzen Radio Symphony Orchestra before but they play very competently in these concertos. We already knew from the early days of Naxos that there were some fine regional orchestras in the Czech Republic and Slovakia and it’s especially good to be able to add one to the list which is based in the town which gave its name to Pilsen beer – the studio in which the recording was made even maintains the old Austro-Hungarian name.
The recording is good but the playing time is rather short for a new CD – if the first concerto is about the same length as the two here, that could surely have been included, with 29 minutes to spare. In fact, I see that the same forces, except with Jirí Malat at the helm, have already recorded that first concerto, together with some shorter pieces, on an earlier album, VA0160, with the same picture on the cover. The present CD is billed as Volume 3: I’m not sure what is included on the other disc.
The notes in the booklet are detailed, scholarly and lavishly illustrated, partly in colour. They are in Czech with a decent, but slightly awkward English translation. Slightly confusingly, the booklet includes notes on father Antonín as well as Nikolaus; this risks perpetuating the confusion between the two which seems to have afflicted the Wikipedia article on Nikolaus: when I checked, it attributed to him his father’s role as a friend of Beethoven and as a soloist in the first performance of the Triple Concerto. The colour illustration on page 6 of the booklet depicts Antonín, not Nikolaus, with Haydn. The caption credits the players correctly, but at a quick glance a reader might confuse father and son.
Not an essential purchase, then, but not one that you would be likely to regret making: it’s well worth considering as a next stop after the Haydn and Beethoven concertos. It’s available for Ł12 post free worldwide, from the Arco Diva catalogue webpage here at Musicweb International, which is, as far as I can see, the only way to obtain it at the time of writing, other than downloading.
Brian Wilson

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