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Joseph MAYSEDER (1781-1863)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 in A minor, Op. 22 (1813) [23:49]
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 3 in D major, Op. 28 (1811) [28:01]
Concertino for Violin and Orchestra No. 2 in E major, Op. 53 (1835) [14:29]
Raimund Lissy (violin)
Joseph Mayseder Orchestra/Helmut Zehetner
rec. 2017, Casino Baumgarten, Vienna
World Premiere Recordings
GRAMOLA 99181 [66:35]

Joseph Mayseder is a new name to me and, I expect, to the vast majority of classical music aficionados. Born in Vienna, he showed musical promise from an early age, and was already performing in public concerts from eleven, while studying composition with Emanuel Aloys Förster, who was friends with both Haydn and Mozart. Mayseder was appointed Konzertmeister of the Vienna Court Opera, was the violin soloist of the Hofburg Palace chapel orchestra, which he also later conducted, and combined a busy performing career with teaching. He was buried in a grave of honour in Vienna, where, in the centre of the city, the Maysedergasse was named after him in 1876.

He was clearly a well-respected musician and composer but despite his fairly extensive output, mainly in the field of chamber music, his music is now largely all but forgotten. The Austrian Gramola label has already issued two volumes of his music in this genre (Gramola 99103 and 99148 respectively), and this third volume presents two of his three violin concertos, alongside one of his concertinos. For any such composer to be afforded a rebirth some 150 years after his death raises the question of whether all the effort is worth it. The record label is happy to champion the music of one of its country’s long-forgotten sons, as is Helmut Zehetner, the conductor on this new CD, who has apparently put together The Joseph Mayseder Orchestra from a mix of some original players augmented by graduates of the Vienna Philharmonic Summer Academy. Violin-soloist, fellow-Austrian Raimund Lissy who, with the Lissy Quartet and Mayseder Quartet respectively, were heard on Gramola’s first two volumes, is clearly a convert, and a student at Cardiff University in Wales had even elected to write a PhD thesis on ‘Joseph Mayseder (1789-1863): A Viennese violinist and composer’ (2014). But, as with all such re-discoveries, the music should have the final say.

As soon as I started to listen to the opening track, the first movement of the first concerto, I was immediately reminded of the same movement in Hummel’s A minor Piano Concerto No 2, not just because of the key, but because of the writing style of the opening orchestral exposition. As a pianist, I was more familiar with the music than with the likes of violin concertos by Rode or Kreutzer which Lissy mentions in his comprehensive and informative sleeve-notes. Eager to check, I found that Mayseder’s work dates from 1813, while Hummel’s appeared just three years later. Personally, I didn’t find all those ‘beautiful melodies and extremely virtuosic passages’ to which Lissy refers, though I would agree with him that the short concluding coda in the major key is appealing, as is the ensuing throw-away ending. Other than that, it is attractive, easy on the ear and well crafted, even if, the soloist on the recording is less prominent than is ideal.

The Andante that follows does, however, have real charm, with its gently-undulating accompaniment, though here again the violin’s cantabile could benefit from being more prominent on the sound-stage. The calm of the opening then moves into a busy fugato section in the tonic minor, which then allows the soloist to return to the opening theme, adding some filigree touches. There is some interesting writing for the horn and trombone, which Lissy includes as ‘bass’ trombone(s) in his list of orchestral resources here. Overall this movement definitely stands out from the crowd. The Rondo is a catchy-enough little tune, of which there would have been plenty of examples around at the time. It has the almost obligatory rustic moment or two, and there is sufficient variety in the episodes, particularly the final one in the tonic major, where the tempo is decreased significantly to allow for this brief moment of relief, before the music builds up to the close. Lissy again refers to it as a ‘virtuosic’ Rondo, and while there isn’t that much in the way of fireworks up to that point, there are at least some double-stoppings in the closing bars. However, just where you would expect the violin to be weaving arpeggios around the final few chords, it has either finished its contribution by then, or is merely assigned a humbler role alongside the first violins.

The Concerto No 3 is dated 1811, two years earlier than No 1, but the seeming confusion is merely to do with publication. It is also a three-movement work, with similar orchestration, save for the addition of two extra oboes, and no bass trombone. The opening Allegro starts out with the usual kind of dotted-rhythm theme, and also makes some use of pedal points. The lead into the second subject, even here in the orchestral exposition, is quite impressive, but otherwise things proceed according to plan as the violin enters. Here the soloist seems to have been given greater prominence, and consequently Lissy appears to dominate proceedings far more here than in the First Concerto, which is how it surely should have been. As he points out, this first movement is more developed than the previous one, and is some five minutes longer. Themes are worked out in more detail, and the violin-writing shows more maturity, too. The lead back into the recapitulation is simply, but neatly, achieved, and altogether there is a greater maturity here, not only in the writing, but also in the performance. The second subject has a feel of a Paganini concerto about it, and all in all this is a much more compelling movement.

There is a real depth of emotion in the Adagio, in the tonic minor key, even perhaps a brief glimpse of ‘Mayseder’s ‘unmistakable personal style’ to which Lissy refers when discussing the previous work. The middle section, as expected, reverts to the major key, and is equally attractive, with a brief cadenza, which Lissy here despatches with real sincerity. Interesting Mayseder doesn’t bring back the opening minor section, but closes in the major. The Finale is a really jolly little number, of almost ‘ear-worm’ quality, where again the more forward placing of the soloist adds a much more confident feeling to the sound produced. The episodes include a gigue-like section with its own particular charm, and virtuosity is far more on offer than before. A short scale-like cadenza introduces the penultimate entry of the rondo theme. The gigue-like theme reappears later as the composer begins to work up his ending which, unlike the previous occasion, sees the soloists fully involved to the very end. Unlike just the slow movement in the First Concerto, all three movements in the Third stand out from the crowd – at least to some degree.

The CD ends with the Concertino No 2 in E, a later work dating from 1835, and is written for a conventional classical orchestra, with the addition of three trombones (not referred to on this occasion as ‘bass’). The first movement opens quite dramatically before the soloist’s entry. Again, the recording balance seems to take up where the previous work left off, with the solo violin forward, but by no means overpowering, and which makes some of his early contributions on the lower strings so much richer-sounding. The work is essentially a two-movement mini-concerto (Slow – Fast), but in reality, it’s a single movement divided into two. Again, this opening section has many of the qualities of the two previous fully-fledged slow movements. A perfect cadence (full-close) after some three minutes leads into the faster Allegro section, which sets off in the relative minor key (C sharp minor), with another short march-like orchestral exposition full of dotted rhythms. The soloist enters and the theme is initially taken up canonically, which leads eventually to a more expansive and expressive slow section in the major (hints of Bruch here?), closing what purports to be the exposition. The development contains some happy ideas and changes of key while the thematic material is worked through. Given that this is not a fully-fledged concerto form, Mayseder moves straight to recapitulating the second subject, which he does with finesse. Back then comes the little dotted-rhythm march as the concerto begins to draw to a close, made more effective by cranking up the tempo just towards the end.

When I first started listening to the CD, I was simply reminded that Mayseder was, at the time, a talented performer and composer, and clearly well-respected by all who knew him, players, public, and aristocracy alike. The music I was hearing simply reinforced this. But from the second track onwards, I could certainly begin to appreciate how Gramola, Lissy, Zehetner and others, felt they could justify having already devoted three CDs to his music. From a purely selfish standpoint, I would now like to see some of his chamber works with piano recorded, to get an even greater insight into the composer.

A critic at the time of the Concertino No 2 wrote that it is ‘full of new, original ideas and brilliant passages’. You, too – perhaps with a couple of minor reservations – might well agree with this contemporary appraisal of Mayseder’s works, given the evidence to date.

Philip R Buttall


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