Franz KROMMER (1759-1831)
Symphony No. 1, Op. 12 in F major (1797) [24:02]
Symphony No. 2, Op. 40 in D major (1803) [24:21]
Symphony No. 3, Op. 62 in D major (1807) [28:55]
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana/Howard Griffiths
rec. 24-27 September 2013 and 13-16 October 2014, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano, Switzerland
CPO 555099-2 [77:26]
Franz (Frantisek) Krommer was among the fine Bohemian composers who staffed the musical establishments of Hapsburg Austria in the classical era. Krommer was highly regarded in his time, if not ours, and served as imperial court composer, succeeding Leopold Kozeluch in 1818. This recording offers three Krommer symphonies written between 1797 and 1807. They are tightly organized in a conventional four movement pattern, distinguished by rich wind writing, memorable melodies, and often interesting rhythms. These are substantial works, with a post-Haydn, post-Mozart sound. Krommer shares many musical assumptions with Beethoven, but often goes off in directions of his own. These works are well worth hearing, especially in these splendid new recordings by Howard Griffiths and the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana.
The highlight of Symphony No. 1 is the energetic final movement, which moves along with exhilarating momentum. The vitality of the writing is reminiscent of Krommer’s fine series of wind partitas, which have been frequently recorded.
Symphony No. 2 features a striking Adagio, with an arresting set of variations. This piece has a rival recording, by Matthias Bamert and the London Mozart Players. Bamert’s version is satisfactory, but Griffiths and his Swiss players are more precise and perform with consistently zippier tempi. The recording is also superior, with greater clarity of individual parts.
After the churning strings and drama of its first movement, the third symphony brings us an “Andante allegretto” that is a kind of march. Beginning with pizzicato strings, this proves to be a parade of oddities, not a procession of pilgrims or a military advance. Along its course, the music struts ostentatiously, then slithers about in a minor key, sometimes with curious, machine-like accompaniments. This droll work offers a striking contrast to Beethoven’s much more serious procession-movement two years later, in his seventh symphony.
Howard Griffiths has long been a reliable guide to forgotten music of the classical era. This is one of his best recordings. Griffiths delivers crisp performances, alternatively driving and relaxed in all the appropriate places. The musicians play as if these almost unknown works are well-loved masterpieces, which presents their abundant strengths and pleasures in best view. One hopes that cpo will record the remaining five of Krommer’s surviving symphonies.