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Paul WRANITZKY (1756 - 1808)
String Trios
Trio in E flat, op. 17,2 [19:48]
Trio in F, op. 3,1 [17:15]
Trio in G, op. 3,3 [18:58]
Ensemble Cordia (Stanley Ritchie (violin), Stefano Marcocchi (viola), Stefano Veggetti (cello))
rec. 2 - 4 September 2010, Eroica-Saal, Palais Lobkowitz, Vienna, Austria. DDD

The string trio is derived from the baroque trio sonata for two treble instruments and basso continuo. When in the course of the 18th century the basso continuo became obsolete, the third part was usually played by the cello or - especially in southern Germany and Austria - the violone. At the end of the century the second violin was gradually replaced by a viola. The great classical composers didn't contribute that much to a genre which was especially popular among amateurs. Haydn composed no string trios and Mozart wrote just one. However, Beethoven composed no fewer than five.
This disc includes three such trios from the pen of Paul Wranitzky who composed more than thirty in total. He was of Moravian birth and was educated as a violinist. At the age of twenty he settled in Vienna where he was active until his death. In 1785 he became music director at the court of Count Johann Baptist Esterházy, a distant cousin of Haydn's patron. Through his employer he became a member of the Freemason lodge which also numbered Mozart among its members.
Wranitzky soon became the proverbial spider in the web in the Viennese music scene. He was a member of the orchestra which played in two court theatres, and later became its director. In this capacity he conducted the first public performance of Haydn's oratorio Die Schöpfung and the première of Beethoven's first symphony. He also became secretary of the Tonkünstler-Societät, a charitable organisation of professional musicians. Moreover, he was heavily involved in the music-publishing business. He had close ties to the printer Johann André in Offenbach and acted as his unofficial agent in Vienna.
Wranitzky was also active as a composer. From 1789 he wrote at least one work for the stage every year. Moreover he composed 51 symphonies and a large amount of chamber music, among them forty string quartets. His music found wide dissemination, but was quickly forgotten after his death.

All the three trios on this disc are recorded here for the first time. The trios in E flat and in G are in four movements, the Trio in F has three. The role of the various instruments differs from one movement to the next. They usually share thematic material, but sometimes one of the instruments plays a notable role. The opening statement of the first movement from the Trio in G is given to the viola, whereas the development section is opened by the cello. The latter has a particularly dominant role in the adagio from this trio.
The second movement from the Trio in E flat is marked as 'un poco adagio'; it has a couple of striking dramatic phrases. The trio ends with an energetic allegretto. The Trio in F begins with an andantino with variations. The closing allegro is notable for its strong contrasts. The Trio in G also ends with an allegro, with a short slow section halfway. It is a brilliant and sparkling Kehraus.
The Ensemble Cordia provides technically outstanding performances in compelling interpretations. I have reviewed several previous recordings by this ensemble, with chamber music by Platti and concertos by Telemann, which I rated highly. This time they are joined by the American violinist Stanley Ritchie, a veteran in historical performance practice, who is now in his late 70s. He is still going strong as his playing on this disc shows.
The recording was made in the Eroica Saal of the Lobkowitz Palace in Vienna where Beethoven's Eroica symphony was first performed. Obviously this is considered one of the virtues of this recording as it is mentioned in the frontispiece of the booklet. I can understand that it is exciting for musicians to play and record in that venue. Acoustically however it is far less satisfying. There is too much reverberation. I am not sure whether this kind of repertoire was played in this sort of venue in Wranitzky's time, but then these would have been attended by an audience and that has a strong influence on the acoustic. I would have preferred more intimate surroundings.
It didn't spoil my enjoyment, though. These trios are substantial contributions to the genre of the string trio and they are given compelling performances by the Ensemble Cordia.
Johan van Veen

Comment received:

In his review of Wranitzky string trios posted today, Johan van Veen makes the surprising claim that "Haydn composed no string trios". According to the Haydn scholar H.C. Robbins Landon, he in fact wrote as many as 33 divertimentos for string trio (Hob.V), most of which have been recorded by the Wiener Philarmonia Trio on the Camerata label. Admittedly all but one of them are for two violins and cello or bass, with only one (Hob.V:8) including a viola in the manner of the modern string trio. Nevertheless string trios they certainly are - there seems to be no suggestion that they should be 'completed' by the addition of a keyboard continuo.

Mr van Veen also slightly understates Mozart's contribution to the genre. In addition to the late string trio divertimento K563, he also wrote (but did not complete) a sonata for two violins and cello, K266, and produced a set of six preludes and fugues for the modern string trio line-up, K404a. The latter are mostly arrangements of pieces by J.S and W.F Bach, though four of the preludes are apparently original music. These pieces can, or could, be obtained as part of a Philips double CD of Mozart's string trios and duos, in recordings by the Grumiaux Trio and the ASMF Chamber Ensemble. I dare say there are other recordings too.

Best regards
Rob Sykes

My remarks in regard to Mozart and Haydn were partly based on the liner-notes of the booklet, written by Davis Wyn Jones. I quote: " Paul Wranitzky's interest in the string trio is particularly striking. They are all scored for violin, viola and cello, ot the more old-fashioned combination of two violins and a cello. Haydn
was not interested in the new combination and Mozart wrote only one trio (...)."
It all depends on how one defines the string trio, both in scoring and in form.

Johan van Veen