Johann Wenzel KALLIWODA (1801-1866)
Overture No. 3 in C, Op. 55 [4:31]
Violin Concertino No. 5 in A minor, Op. 133 [22:06]
Overture No. 7 in C minor, Op. 101 [7:47]
Violin Concertino No. 1 in E, Op. 15 [16:01]
Overture No. 10 in F minor, Op. 142 [7:02]
Ariadne Daskalakis (violin)
Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens
rec. no information provided
Reviewed (DJB) as 16-bit lossless download from eClassical
CPO 777 692-2 [57:28]

This is another huge step forward in the Kalliwoda Revolution. Since record companies first turned serious attention to Johann Wenzel Kalliwoda, ten years ago, he has gone from a historical curiosity to one of the biggest discoveries of our time. I am just amazed by how fantastic this music is.

In case you aren’t familiar with Kalliwoda yet — not many people are — here is a recap. Johann Wenzel Kalliwoda was born Jan Vaclav Kalivoda, 23 years before his countryman Smetana and 40 years before Dvorák. He made his living in Germany, as one of the last true court composers, entertaining the prince at Donaueschingen for an amazing 44 years. During this time, Kalliwoda turned down jobs which could have made him famous, like a position in Leipzig, although he did achieve some acclaim through performances as a composer and violinist. Robert Schumann was a big fan, understandably, because Kalliwoda’s symphonies were bolder and better than Schumann’s.

Oops, I started editorializing. Still, I believe it to be true. Kalliwoda was the most daring, idiosyncratic, even peculiar composer of German orchestral music between Schubert and Liszt. He was more likely than either Schumann or Mendelssohn to lead his orchestra down some bizarre paths, like the tritone-spiked Third Symphony, the main tune from which was “composed” by mistake when Kalliwoda’s infant son randomly plinked piano keys. Or the Fifth Symphony, which completely commits to the kind of fatalistic ending which Schubert shied away from in his “tragic” symphony. Or the Fourth Symphony, which, though it is in a major key, begins— begins —with a fully developed funeral march.

There is plenty more evidence on this terrific new CD. Kalliwoda was too modest to call his violin concertos “concertos,” so they are Concertinos. Concertino No. 5 is a full 22 minutes, and the three movements play without any pause, like Mendelssohn’s concerto, which was completed in exactly the same year, 1844. Mendelssohn’s is the better piece and it has better tunes. But Kalliwoda’s is appealing because it’s downright weird, like the creepy beginning, with its ghostly melody and timpani rolls. The finale is an Italian guitar serenade, with the orchestral violins playing pizzicato. More surprises loom. Trombones intrude on the climaxes. At 2:24 the violin is asked to sound almost Arabian.

Concertino No. 1 is in E Major, at the time still an unusual key for an orchestral work. Haydn wrote just two symphonies in E; Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Spohr, and Schumann wrote none. In this piece, the importance of woodwinds and French horns is a sign, maybe, of Kalliwoda’s Czech background. In the first movement, they’re arguably more prominent even than the violins. Again, the three movements play without pause. This is the least substantial piece on the album, even less exciting than the overtures, but still very enjoyable.

Kalliwoda composed some real firework overtures, but none I’ve heard so far — aside from the sublimely weird No. 16, which crosses Berlioz, Haydn, Wagner, and Saint-Saëns — is as fantastic as No. 10. This one, in F minor, packs as much hot drama, sheer excitement and orchestral thrill as Verdi or Rossini ever put into any of their overtures. At the start, a fast and furious F minor orchestral theme runs into resistance from a relaxed, golden-toned hunting call played by the French horns. This contrast explodes into an ultra-compact, concise and thrilling sonata form with unexpected harmonic twists. You’ll think of Schubert, certainly, but Kalliwoda’s own voice—and his really unparalleled ability to Sturm-ify und Drang-ize any melody—shine through. The guns-blazing nonstop-thrills finale helps. I’ve listened to this piece four times already.

Overture No. 3 is a fun, propulsive little major-key concert opener. Overture No. 7 starts with a booming timpani stroke, and after the tiniest of introductions, Kalliwoda plunges us into a C minor allegro that Beethoven would not have been embarrassed to write; the mood isn’t unlike Coriolan. Although Robert Schumann enjoyed this piece, a rival critic complained that it had “almost too many idiosyncrasies”.

That, in a nutshell, is why I love Johann Kalliwoda’s music: “Almost too many idiosyncrasies”. Many of the unknown romantic composers being revived by record labels today have too few idiosyncrasies, and sound boringly similar. I won’t name names. Except for a very bad piano sonata, Kalliwoda has never bored me and he never sounds similar to anyone else.

Credit goes, here, to CPO for helping start the revival. MDG and Calliope/La Dolce Volta have made big contributions too. A lot of that credit belongs to Michael Alexander Willens and his Cologne-based period-instrument group, for their spirited advocacy. Ariadne Daskalakis is a rising star of the violin, and if she can play such obscure music as stirringly as she does here, I wonder what she’d do with Beethoven or Mozart. Her Biber Rosary Sonatas are a new release on BIS (BIS2096).

If you haven’t joined the Kalliwoda Revolution yet, the best starting point is probably Symphony No. 5 (review), or maybe the three string quartets excellently played by Quatuor Talich (review review). This new release will prove just as essential to devotees. I am enthralled. These albums are re-writing music history.

Brian Reinhart

Another review ...

Everything Brian Reinhart has said above about this recording, and indeed the composer, I agree with wholeheartedly.

I encountered Kalliwoda’s music first with Symphonies 5 and 7 on CPO and was quite bowled over. As an aficionado of the “unsung composer”, there are many – in reality, most – occasions when a recording of works by a hitherto unknown name is interesting but ultimately unmemorable, and goes some way to explaining just why that composer had been forgotten. Kalliwoda is one of the exceptions to this which makes the quest worthwhile. That pair of symphonies made my Recordings of the Year in 2006, and was followed the next year by the aforementioned Talich Quartet recording of the three string quartets. A couple of years later, CPO released another pair of symphonies (2 and 4 – 7774692), which were enjoyable, but not up to the standard of 5 and 7. This recording somehow managed to miss being reviewed on these pages, something which I should rectify. The next few years brought a Kalliwoda drought, but the good people of Osnabruck (that being the O in CPO) have come to the rescue with some more overtures – the two symphony discs each including one – and the misleadingly named concertinos.

Kalliwoda is from the generation after Louis Spohr and Pierre Rode, composers whose works he played as a concert violinist. His own compositions have much greater bite and vitality, as well as more catchy melodies, than his predecessors. It is suggested in the notes that these are called concertinos, rather than concertos, because of their smaller scale and being structured as a single movement in three sections. Number 5 is in excess of twenty minutes, making it not much shorter than the first Bruch concerto, and there are examples of concertos with movements flowing attaca into one another. Semantics aside, these are not trifles, and it is a salivating prospect that Kalliwoda wrote eight works of this type, two unpublished. It is to be hoped that this recording is sufficiently successful to allow the completion of the job, as well as the rest of the symphonies and overtures. If I wanted to be picky, I might suggest that at 57 minutes, the disc was well and truly capable of adding another concertino or couple of overtures.

The sound quality is excellent, as are the performances. I could see no indication that these were first recordings, but they are the only entries in Mike Herman’s discography. I was very pleased to find that the complete booklet notes were included. CPO has a bit of history of randomly (or it so it seems) not providing the notes for downloads, or even worse, providing a completely useless front and back cover in the guise of a booklet. This happened most irritatingly with the first of the Louis Glass symphonies.

Bring on the next Kalliwoda release, but please don’t make us wait quite so long this time.

David Barker
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