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Franz KROMMER (1759-1831)
Symphony No.6 in D Major, Padrta 1: 6 [33.09]
Symphony No.9 in C Major, Padrta 1: 9 [31.55]
Orchestra della Svizzera italiana/Howard Griffiths
rec. 2016/17, Auditorio Stelio Molo, RSI, Lugano, Italy
CPO 555 337-2 [65.04]

I had the pleasure, a year or two ago, of reviewing Symphonies 4, 5, and 7 in this admirable series from Howard Griffiths. (The first three symphonies are also available on CPO). Despite the delay in issue, the new recordings were made around the same time as the last.

Franz Krommer dwells in the shadow of Beethoven – and was less successful in his own day - and it is easy to overlook his interesting and frequently imaginative music. Perhaps he was less commercially savvy than Beethoven, who famously was not above selling the same genuinely (honest, gov!) unplayed masterwork to different buyers simultaneously. And Krommer, for all his distinctive qualities, had not the genius of Beethoven. But his work is consistently enjoyable and always worth exploring. He was astonishingly prolific. As well as his 9 symphonies, he produced more than 70 quartets (60 by 1810), 35 string quintets, 40 quintets and quartets for wind instruments and strings, 24 duos for two violins and more than 40 partitas and 30 marches for different groups of winds, and much else

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. Wind concertos dominate his orchestral output, though he fitted in seven violin concertos by 1810. The violin was his own instrument though he seems also to have been an organist, and he composed little for voice or keyboard.

These two major-key symphonies are strong-boned works. In his symphonic writing he makes great use of unison writing, so there is both weight and muscularity. They might sound like lesser Beethoven, but there is something very distinctive in the wind-writing which could not be mistaken for the work of his contemporary. Formally, Krommer makes various tweaks to expectations, sometimes with deliberately jagged, even dissonant effects. Griffiths and his orchestra bring out both the seriousness but also lighter, almost Rossinian moments with insight and character. These works have been played very rarely in their time (and Symphony No.9 perhaps not at all), and one continually wonders why not. They are significant additions to the canon of early 19th Century symphonies, here, superbly realised.

These fluent performances will give tremendous pleasure to anyone who loves music. Recording quality is fine and detailed, Bert Hagels’ notes, both biographical and musical, are as informative and detailed as anyone could wish.

Michael Wilkinson

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