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Franz KROMMER (1759-1831)
Symphony No. 4, Op. 102 [25.29]
Symphony No. 5 Op. 105 [27.06]
Symphony No. 7 (without Op.) [26.34]
Howard Griffiths (conductor)
Orchestra della Svizzera italiana
rec. 2013-17, Auditorio Stelio Molo, RSI, Lugano,
CPO 555 125-2 [79.20]

Many artists have the misfortune to live in the shadow of greater genius, but the misfortune is greater for their reputation if they are roughly contemporary with one of the towering figures of civilisation. In art, that extraordinary Siennese painter Domenico Beccafumi (1484-1551) is almost unknown to the wider public, simply because he had the misfortune to be contemporary with Michelangelo (1474 -1556). Franz Krommer dwells in the shadow of Beethoven and it is easy to overlook his interesting and frequently imaginative music.

Much of Krommer’s career was devoted to music for winds, and the majority of available recordings have been of various concertos, notably those for clarinet, and various partitas for wind instruments. This recording of three symphonies is the second from CPO – the first three symphonies are available from the same performers on cpo 555 099-2. There is also a recording of symphonies 2 and 4 in a 1994 recording from Mathias Bamert in his Contemporaries of Mozart series for Chandos (CHAN 9275). I find the new performances preferable in every way. In both symphonies, Bamert’s performances are amiable but – to me – a little routine, works learned for a recording. In the hands of Griffiths, they sound lived with and more confidently played. Speeds are consistently quicker, phrasing sharper, and there is greater excitement.

These are strong-boned works. They can sound like lesser Beethoven, but the muscularity of sound comes very largely from the weight of unison writing. Biographical notes suggest that Krommer struggled both to find and maintain regular employment, but a significant amount of his career was spent working with wind bands – and that experience shows here. Listen to the blend of instruments in the almost aggressive chords in the early parts of the first movement of Symphony No 4, but also how the woodwinds lead the way in subsequent developments of the major themes. Much is joyful and there is something of Beethoven in the contrast of piano and forte passages. I think I enjoyed the 4th Symphony more than the other two – but then I listen to the others and am not quite so sure!

These are very good works in excellent and fluent performances which will give tremendous pleasure to anyone who enjoys music of this period. Recording quality is fine and detailed, the notes as informative and detailed as ever from CPO (other recording companies please note).

Michael Wilkinson

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