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Johannes Matthias SPERGER (1750-1812)
Double Bass Concerto No.2 [22.19]
Sinfonia No.30 in G major [23.46]
Double Bass Concerto No.15 [23.11]
Roman Patkoló (double bass)
Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester Mannheim/Johannes Schlaefli
rec. 2017, Epiphaniaskirche Mannheim-Freudenheim, Germany
CPO 555 101-2 [69.24]

One of the more tedious habits of many conductors of recent years has been to milk applause by bringing each section or subsection of the orchestra to its feet, one-by-one, before a final gesture to the massed strings, as if they were a polite afterthought. Gone are the days when such individual attention was given just to the performer with the special solo. Orchestral players know full well that their individual performance happens within the collective efforts of them all. Also, as a matter of simple numbers, the string players have almost certainly played more notes for longer periods than anyone else. Johann Matthias Sperger reminds us very well of the contributions of undersung players.

Perhaps the finest 18th century virtuoso of the double bass, he was also a fine composer. His output includes 45 symphonies and 30 concertos. Of the many for double bass, only six have been printed, largely because of the need for transposition to modern, rather than the localised Vienna tuning (F-A-D-F#-A) tuning. Sperger’s life was largely spent in or close to Vienna, where he trained under the guidance of Albrechtsberger and others. His first known appointment was in Pressburg (now Bratislava), only 30 miles or so away.

The most striking feature of both concertos here is the virtuosity required of the player. There are few concessions to the size of the instrument - demands are similar to those demanded of a cello concerto. Each of the two concertos has its own demands. In No.2, the first movement – a genuine dialogue between soloist and orchestra – the virtuoso demands are extraordinary, many in upper levels of harmonics, before an interesting cadenza (here as elsewhere provided by Roman Patkoló) and a rapid conclusion. The second movement is tranquil and rather lovely, before a lively finale. Concerto No 15, unknown until twenty years ago, begins urgently but is more melodic than the equivalent movement in No.2. The second movement is again poetic, with a depth of feeling, before a lively finale – with hints of the hunt.

The symphony, here receiving its first performance since the 18th century, is very fine – strongly reminiscent of Haydn, it was written in Vienna, in 1788. Much of the playing is virtuosic, with the gentler ending something of a surprise.

CPO’s production values are fine as ever, with excellent recording, detailed and informative notes, and carefully prepared performances. The Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester, not a large body, specialises in the music of the Mannheim school and, under the direction of its principal conductor, approaches these unfamiliar scores with confident liveliness and accuracy – and with a lovely sense of fun. Roman Patkoló has remarkable skills – there is nothing unwieldy in his double bass, though some may be distracted by his continual vocalisations.

Michael Wilkinson

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