Joseph Martin KRAUS (1756 - 1792) Arias and Overtures
Monica Groop (mezzo)
Helsinki Baroque Orchestra/Aapo Häkkinen
rec. 2013, Sello Hall, Espoo, Finland. DDD
Texts and translations included NAXOS 8.572865 [62:47]
Until the 18th century music culture in Sweden was dominated
by composers of foreign origin. Johan Helmich Roman (1694-1758) was
the first important native composer. Other lesser known figures were
active in other parts of Europe, such as Johan Joachim Agrell. The main
name in Swedish music life in the second half of the 18th century was
that of Joseph Martin Kraus. The programme of the present disc reflects
the various stages of his career.
Parvum quando cerno Deum dates from 1776 and was written in
Buchen where Kraus received his earliest musical education. It is a
kind of lullaby for Christmastide on a text from a collection of the
12th century. It has an extended dacapo structure: ABACA. It includes
an obbligato part for violin. In this recording the two clarinet parts
are played by alto oboes "to emphasize the pastoral nature of the
text". Why didn't Kraus think of that? Probably because
he thought that clarinets were perfectly suited to do the job. What
gives today's performers the idea that they know better?
In 1778 a Swedish student persuaded Kraus to accompany him to Stockholm
and try to enter the service of King Gustavus III. He didn't
have immediate success; for three years he lived in poverty. In 1781
he was elected to the Swedish Royal Academy of Music. It was his first
opera, Proserpin, which brought him the position of assistant
kapellmästare at the royal court and the Royal Opera. The programme
fittingly opens with the overture to this opera. It begins with a slow
section with an oboe soaring over a body of strings; this is followed
by a dramatic fast section.
In 1782 Gustavus sent Kraus on a study journey throughout Europe to
pick up the latest trends in music, and especially music for the theatre.
He visited various cities, such as Vienna, Rome, Naples, Paris and London.
In Vienna he met Haydn who was full of praise for his younger colleague.
He even called him one of two geniuses he knew; the other one was Mozart.
In 1782 he visited Wismar, then a Swedish province, and there he was
asked by some literati to set a text in honour of Gustavus III to music.
The programme includes the overture to this birthday cantata (Zum
Geburtstage des Könings Gustav III.). In the fast section trumpets
play an important role.
Early in 1784 Kraus visited Paris. Here he composed his only work on
a French text, Du temps, qui détruit tout, originally scored
for tenor. In his liner-notes Kraus scholar Bertil van Boer, who also
catalogued his oeuvre, suggests that the text could be connected to
the opéra comique. The voice is accompanied by strings; here
a transverse flute has been added, and once again I don't see
In Paris or in London Kraus may have become acquainted with the operatic
output of Johann Christian Bach. Sentimi, non partir! - Al mio bene
is a pair of recitative and rondo which Bach composed in 1778 for the
castrato Fernando Tenducci. It was arranged by Kraus and in this form
was probably performed as a concert piece by a tenor or a mezzo-soprano
in a public concert in Stockholm after his return. Kraus' arrangement
is rather modest as he kept the largest part of the original scoring
intact. Ma tu tremi and Ch'io mai vi possa
are also concert arias, both on texts by the then most famous librettist
in Europe, Pietro Metastasio. The former is from the cantata La
Tempesta, the other from the opera libretto Siroè.
This disc includes two short arias on Swedish texts. These were written
to be inserted in spoken comedies. Both were later published independently
as songs for voice and keyboard. As the originals have been lost, Bertil
van Boer has reconstructed them for this recording. They date from 1787
and 1789 respectively. In 1790 Kraus was one of seven composers who
were asked to write the music for a play by Johan Magnus Lannerstierna.
He composed the overture to Äfventyraren recorded here. A sequence
of repeated notes in the oboe are a returning phrase in this piece,
marking the transition from one section to another. This overture is
followed attacca by the opening chorus. For this recording
a new ending had to be constructed on the basis of material from contemporary
Gustavus III and Kraus were pretty close: this explains the character
of the funeral music for the King which he wrote when he was killed
in March 1792. This work reflects the deeply-felt sorrow of Kraus and
the overture sets the tone. (The whole work was recorded recently by
Werner Ehrhardt; review).
Kraus' connection with the court ended soon: in December of that
same year he himself also died.
Kraus's oeuvre is not that large, and part of it has been lost.
Even so, there are several works which have never been recorded. This
disc includes no fewer than six world première recordings. That alone
makes it a worthwhile addition to the discography. It impressively underlines
the quality of Kraus' oeuvre and makes one understand why he
was held in high esteem by Haydn and other composers. The Helsinki Baroque
Orchestra delivers outstanding performances of the orchestral works
and the instrumental scores of the vocal items. Monica Groop is a well-known
singer but seems not to play a major role in the early music scene.
I haven't heard her for years and I have never reviewd any disc
with her participating. She has a nice voice which is suited to the
repertoire which is performed here. She uses a little too much vibrato
but it is by no means as bad as that experienced in other recordings
I have reviewed recently. Moreover, one vibrato is not like the other:
hers is not very wide, and it is not the sort of fast vibrato which
gets on one's nerves. Because of that I appreciate her interpretations
of the vocal items. They are beautifully sung and the balance between
voice and orchestra is just right.
All in all I rate this disc positively, firstly because of the quality
of Kraus' music and the number of first recordings, then because
of the interpretations, despite some issues in regard to scoring and
Track listing Overture Proserpin (VB 19) [8:19] Du i hvars oskuldsfulla blick (VB 30) [2:02] Ma tu tremi (VB 63) [3:17] Ch'io mai vi possa (VB 59) [4:03]
Overture Zum Geburtstage des Königs Gustav III. (VB 41) [8:54] Parvum quando cerno Deum (VB 5) [7:43]
Overture Äfventyraren (VB 32) [10:30] Du temps, qui détruit tout (VB 58) [2:25] Sentimi, non partir! - Al mio bene, rec & rondo (VB 55)
Overture Konung Gustav III Begrafnings-kantat (VB 42) [6:20] Hör mina ömma suckar klaga (VB 26) [1:45]