Johann Melchior MOLTER (1696-1765) Sinfonias & Cantatas
Sonata grossa in C major, MWV IV-6 [17:57]
Concerto a Flauto taverso in G major, MWV VI-15 [9:49]
Aria ‘La lodoletta’, MWV II-33 [7:56]
Aria ‘Pensa, ben mio, chi sei’, MWV II-34 [7:13]
Cantata ‘L’augellin tra verdi fronde’, MWV II-23 [14:42]
Sinfonia in D major, MWV VII-144 [14:22]
Andreas Knoop (transverse flute)
Julia Sophie Wagner (soprano)
Reussisches Kammerorchester/Werner Ehrhardt
Notes in German and English, with full Italian sung texts and German and English translations
rec. 2015, Konzertsaal, Gera, Germany CPO5550282 [72:27]
The fact of the 250th anniversary of Molter’s death in 2015 – when these recorded performances were made – seems to be the excuse or reason for compiling this programme of otherwise disparate compositions. As he is only really known, if at all, for his trumpet concertos, this is a welcome sample of the other types of music which Molter composed. It is doubly significant as all the featured works here originate from around the 1740s, demonstrating that already in the last decade of J.S. Bach’s lifetime, this fellow German composer was in the vanguard of the new, developing galant style which would eventually yield to full-blown Classicism. This release thereby reveals how it was that, in the context of changing fashion at that time, Bach was regarded as out of date, incredible as it may seem to us today.
The comparison with Bach is worth making, not to diminish the one or the other, but is instructive, as Molter was only eleven years his junior and born in the same region of Germany, Thuringia. Furthermore Molter actually worked during two periods of his life in the same town where Bach had been born, Eisenach, as well as in Karlsruhe, in the similar courtly, secular environments that in which Bach had been employed for at least part of his career. To that extent it is not surprising that, although the term ‘Sonata grossa’ was entirely Molter’s own invention, in reality it is similar in form to the orchestral suites by the older composer, and Telemann for that matter; likewise the Flute Concerto featured here also follows the same Italianate three movement format that Bach also favoured. Werner Ehrhardt’s performances with the Reussisches Kammerorchester are notably spirited and lucid in the two fugal movements, despite the complicated contrapuntal textures in music that Bach would surely have been pleased to compose. Piquant oboes give the music spice and colour, but the more gentle dance movements – an opening Siciliana and a concluding Minuet – are fresh and delectable.
Andreas Knoop’s playing on the solo flute for the Concerto is crisp and poised, with a good grasp of the phrases into which Molter’s music so eloquently falls, and Knoop throws off the cheeky syncopations and unpredictable flourishes of the melodic line with alacrity. Again, Ehrhardt’s direction is purposeful but discreet.
Any similarities with Bach effectively end there, however, as Molter travelled more extensively, enjoying two sojourns in Italy and cultivated the particular musical styles being developed there. Above all that meant music for voice and, although he did not go on to compose any operas, he clearly became adept at writing in the corresponding vocal forms.
The two independently composed arias here are structurally interesting in that they both include a stretch of recitative within their da capo forms, and so they almost become full-blown scenas in their own right. Julia Sophie Wagner handles the vocal part confidently, despite their fairly florid Rococo patterns, and the offbeat rhythms of Pensa, ben mio, chi sei, but her rich vibrato tone sometimes obstructs the clarity of the melodic line, and is a touch squally in the upper register. The opening aria of the Cantata L’augellin tra verdi fronde is a little hesitant and jarring, perhaps because of the tricky changes in rhythm alternating chains of semiquavers in strict time, triplet figures, and syncopated bars. The concluding aria is more lithe and exact, both on Wagner’s part and that of the orchestra.
The three movement Sinfonia, probably composed between 1742 and 1750, pre-empts the more fully developed structure of similar works in the early catalogue of Haydn’s output, with an opening movement in an incipient Classical sonata form performed with bustling vigour by the Reussisches Kammerorchester; a good humoured slower one to follow; and an assertive triple time finale like a minuet that features articulate bassoon playing in the trio section from this ensemble. Trumpets and drums add robust colour in this performance, rounding off an engaging release. This is a welcome addition to the slender discography of Molter’s output which will surely inform and intrigue those who enjoy the music of the 18th century, alongside another previous German release of similar repertoire. The fresh and animated approach of the Reussisches Kammerorchester is comparable with that of such ensembles as the English Chamber Orchestra and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, and so the recording also will not put off those unconvinced by historically informed performance practice. Curtis Rogers
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