Johann Joachim Quantz was the classical era’s
leading flute composer and teacher, and he certainly had the era’s
most famous student. Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, studied flute
and composition with Quantz for three decades, employing the not-much-older
man as his court composer. Quantz produced dozens of concertos for Frederick
- apparently there are 300, counting other instruments - and the king
himself played them with an ensemble.
The scholarship and artistry on display here are first-rate. Everyone
plays on period instruments; the continuo switches from harpsichord
to fortepiano for the later works. Flute soloist Mary Oleskiewicz personally
rediscovered one of these concertos (in A minor) after scholars had
presumed it lost in World War II. She very modestly describes the finding
in her own booklet note. She also stumbled upon written cadenzas to
the concerto in G, possibly copied directly from Quantz’s original
score. The booklet does not mention the possibility that it was copied
down from an actual improvisation by the king.
Make no mistake: the disc makes fascinating, stimulating listening.
Quantz was influenced in his youth by Handel and Vivaldi, and in some
ways he stayed in Vivaldi’s compositional school; the works here
are scored for small ensembles, sometimes one instrument per part, and
often use the ritornello structure. He’s his own man: you can
hear this especially in the C minor concerto, the last piece Quantz
ever wrote, which is haunted by a dark eight-minute slow movement in
F minor. Quantz died before composing the finale, which was written
by - who else - Frederick the Great. It is thus the final work of two
Mary Oleskiewicz has it all: she’s a skilled writer in the booklet,
she’s an avid scholar who besides digging up some of this music
has published critical editions of Quantz’s chamber music, and
her playing on the transverse flute is pretty fantastic, too. Miklós
Spányi and his Concerto Armonico will be a familiar sign of high
quality to lovers of the CPE Bach series on BIS. Actually, if you like
CPE Bach, you’re sure to enjoy this; the two composers share a
niche as eccentric, colorful bridges between the baroque and classical
We can only hope that this is the beginning of a series, or that some
of the other musicological work Oleskiewicz is up to will be committed
to disc similarly. She’s already recorded some Quantz and Frederick
sonatas for Naxos
and Hungaroton, but given that the C minor concerto is notated as “No.
300”, there’s got to be more stuff of this quality. My ears
would be happy to hear it. To think: these world premieres may not have
been played by any other flautist since Frederick himself.
Once upon a time, Frederick the Great played these concertos. Now a
flautist has rescued them for these world-premiere recordings.