Anton WRANITZKY (1761-1820)
String Quintet in E flat Op.8 No.3 (c.1800) [25:19]
String Sextet in G [23:40]
Ensemble Cordia
rec. November 2009, Vereinshaus St.Georgen-Bruneck, Tyrol

These were apparently the first recordings of Wranitzky’s Quintet and Sextet when made by the original instrument Ensemble Cordia back in 2009. The Bohemian composer, ‘faithful servant to the Hapsburgs’ as the notes entitle him, studied in Brno and Vienna, and then, after the reforms of Joseph II which curtailed Catholic privilege, moved from the composition of church to secular music. He was a notable violinist, too, and taught Prince Lobkowitz in whose orbit he then travelled. The Prince was one of Beethoven’s patrons and Wranitzky performed a number of first private performances his works at the Prince’s palaces: the Eroica, Fifth and Pastoral symphonies among them.
Wranitzky’s chamber music is enjoyable, fluent and sports a degree of novelty. The String Quintet in E flat, composed around 1800, for example, is not the usual line-up. Instead there is only one violin, two violas and two cellos. True, it opens in strict sonata form and there is quite some concertante role for the sole fiddle. But Wranitzky cannily ensures that sonorities are ochre in colour and texture - he must have had some expert violists in his orchestra at the royal palaces from whom to draw on. Wranitzky has a habit in this work of resorting to repeated rounds of daemonic scalar activity, which is not unattractive and suggests a degree of urgency if not necessarily overmuch melodic distinction. The slow movement is taken con moto as written and it really is quite a breezy affair - in conception and, here, execution. There is some attractive decoration and sure elegance rather than any overt pathos. That’s reserved for the opening of the finale, after the bright scherzo. This slow passage exudes piety and breadth in its prayerful unisons, before Wranitzky unleashes the dogs of Bohemian frolic in a folkloric finale. There’s assured nonchalance in this kind of writing, and it’s successfully conveyed in this fine performance.
The String Sextet is also unusual in its composition - two violins, two violas and two cellos, a line-up more redolent of Brahms, say, than a follower of Haydn. It’s another warmly aerated work, less characterful, perhaps, but not lacking classical structures and ingratiating touches. The opening of the three movements is energetic, and the central movement a more obviously reflective one - albeit an Allegretto - than in the companion chamber work. There’s a stately Adagio introduction to the finale but it lacks the austere perspective of the similar section in the Quintet. The finale, as so often with Wranitzky, is songful, fluent, light-hearted and engaging.
A well judged recording, allied to stylistically apt performances, ensures an excellent, albeit short-timed, disc.
Jonathan Woolf

Stylistically apt performances and well judged recording.