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Franz KROMMER (1759-1831)
Flute Quartet in D, Op. 93 (1819) [21:36]
Flute Quartet in C, Op. 90 (1820) [26:30]
Flute Quartet in G, Op. 92 (1816?) [26:04]
Andreas Blau (flute)
Christoph Streuli (violin)
Ulrich Knörzer (viola)
David Riniker (cello)
rec. Philharmonie, Berlin, December 2014, January-February 2015
TUDOR 7199 [74:26]

Composers of the Classical period apparently found the combination of flute with string trio attractive. The best known of these "flute quartets" are the four attributed to Mozart -- at least one of which may actually be by him -- but I've also previously reviewed the Opus 4 set by Ernst Eichner (ACCENT ACC 24183), and I know of others. This combination of instruments seems to have drawn out these composers' lighter, more cheerful side.

That this should also be true of Franz Krommer's D major quartet is hardly a surprise, given the consistently sunny mood of this transplanted Bohemian's output. The firm, assertive string phrases at the start are Classically severe, but the flute's response immediately lightens the atmosphere. Questioning minor-key phrases crop up here and there, never for long enough to disturb the overall cheerful demeanour. The Adagio is broad and serene; in the coda, the theme feints briefly toward the subdominant before resolving. The Minuetto, with more running figures for the flute, feels more like a scherzo, balanced by a spacious-sounding Trio in the same tempo. The final Presto, a tarantella, is simply delightful.

The other two quartets are both more elaborately wrought and more emotionally diverse. At the start of the C major, the flute spins liquid runs over string chords; then the music, while maintaining tempo, becomes more uneasy. The exposition cadences solidly in the major, but the development immediately shifts into a mysterious minor. The Minuetto is sprightly and playful. The Adagio cantabile sounds rather quick for the flute's decorated lines, but the tempo makes sense later, at the arrival of the little string outbursts. The finale is pleasantly active.

Peter Keller's program note describes the G major quartet as "the most individual of the three works." The opening theme-group already veers into the minor, turning the initial propulsion to agitation, while the second theme, sprouting from the same melodic germ, can't quite settle into either mode. The Adagio, searching in mood, is flowing in tempo while suggesting breadth. The Minuetto is easygoing, though with a Beethovenian forward drive; its minor-key Trio is somewhat extended. The finale, alas, is a letdown, though the execution is partly to blame. The manner at the start is too laid-back; the playing generally needs more rhythmic point, as well as a better balance among the three strings. It all comes to feel like empty note-spinning.

Featured flutist Andreas Blau displays a dextrous technique in Krommer's running passages, which he inflects with an unobtrusive rubato that subtly clarifies their sense of direction, and brings poised breath control to the broad, lyrical melodies. Unlike some other flautists I've recently heard (and reviewed), he avoids conspicuous overblowing above the staff, so the tone quality never becomes unpleasant. My only cavil is that, in the movements he launches solo - the Minuetto of the D major and the finale of the C major - the scansion isn't immediately clear: we don't get our rhythmic footing until the strings come in.

I've expressed my reservations about the strings in Opus 92; some of their chording in Opus 90 is a bit loose, as well. In the simpler Opus 93, however, the players provide strongly grounded, full-bodied chording.

The sound is vivid, though there could have been a few seconds' longer pause between the first two movements of the D major.

Stephen Francis Vasta



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