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Music for a Viennese Salon
Joseph Martin KRAUS (1756-1792)
Quintet in D for flute and strings, VB188 [28:01]
Carl Ditters von DITTERSDORF (1739-1799)
Duetto for viola and violone in E-flat, Kr.219 [16:07]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No.94 in G, ‘Surprise’ (arr. Johann Peter Salomon for flute and strings) [22:35]
Night Music (on period instruments)
rec. 2018, Immanuel Highlands Episcopal Church, Wilmington, USA
AVIE AV2423 [66:46]

The aim of this recording is to reproduce a concert in a Viennese salon in 1801 – held not in the evening, despite the name of the ensemble, but in the afternoon. Cards, conversation and music all featured at such gatherings, so the music had no need to be too intense. Not intense, but it’s all attractive and very pleasantly performed, so the name of the group is apt; it’s ideal to be played late in the evening, perhaps with a glass of wine. Recently we have had a similar album from Brilliant Classics, Viennese Divertimenti, music by Dittersdorf who features on the new Avie, Michael Haydn and Vaňhal (96127 – review). I listened to that recording as I was completing this review, and especially enjoyed the six short pieces by Dittersdorf which make up the first and longer of the two CDs. The ensemble’s name Musica Elegentia is apt for their performances, but elegance is also the keynote of the new Avie recording.

The Kraus Flute Quintet makes an excellent opening, likely to make you wonder why we don’t hear more of this Swedish composer’s music. Cue Stuart Sillitoe’s appreciative review of a 5-CD Capriccio set of his vocal, symphonic and chamber music (C7325). Though Kraus moved to Sweden when he was 21, he was Bavarian by birth and he composed this quintet in Vienna. Although the flute is first among equals here, it’s by no means a showy piece for a soloist. Night Music perfectly integrate flute and strings, and the recording is also very well integrated.

If you don’t want to go as far as the Capriccio set, Kraus proves to be by no means the orphan on an Alpha recording where his Symphony in c minor, VB182, is coupled with Haydn’s Symphonies Nos. 19, 80 and 81 (Alpha 676 – review Autumn 2017/3). That, in turn, may well lead you to the Naxos set of his symphonies (930195), a download-only bargain, 4+ hours, which can be found for around 5 in lossless sound. Night Music’s performance of the Flute Quintet is certainly enticing enough to make you investigate this under-rated composer further.

I’ve said that Kraus need not feel in the shade by comparison with Haydn, but here his music is coupled with one of the latter’s best-known works, the so-called ‘Surprise’ Symphony. It’s not the symphony as we know it, but rather in a chamber arrangement by the impresario who invited Haydn to London, Salomon. Such arrangements were not uncommon as a way of letting people get to know the music in more intimate surroundings. The Beethoven 250 year has brought a number of such arrangements, by Beethoven himself and his contemporaries, some more effective than others. Mozart arranged some of his piano concertos for chamber scale performance, and others made such arrangements of his concertos and even symphonies. Again, the results are variable, but a recent Hyperion recording of the ‘Jupiter’ symphony and other works at least demonstrates some advantages in the smaller-scale format – review.

Those Mozart arrangements were made by recognised and accomplished composers – albeit not of the status of Mozart and Haydn – Cramer and Clementi; the arrangement of Piano Concerto No.21, K467, is especially interesting. Nearer to our own time, even some of the Mahler symphonies were performed in chamber-size arrangements at Schoenberg’s private musical gatherings and Reinbert de Leeuw has recently arranged and recorded Das Lied von der Erde in a chamber-scale arrangement (Alpha 633).

Is Salomon’s arrangement of the ‘Surprise’ Symphony equally worth recording? The music makes a good effect, charming music at this scale, receiving a charming performance; as in the Kraus, the flautist and the engineers don’t allow the instrument to dominate. With such small forces, however, the feature which earned the work its nickname, the sudden change from quiet to loud in the andante second movement, designed ‘to make the ladies jump’ – Beecham used to bring it off especially well – doesn’t quite come off, despite a claim to the contrary in the booklet. That said, this is an enjoyable work in its own inevitably diminished right.

Take the arrangement for what it is, and it rounds off the album very effectively. As with the Hyperion Jupiter Project, there are even some advantages in having the music played like this, with a spring in the step that even the best recordings of the original don’t always achieve, even on period instruments. That’s especially noticeable in the third movement minuet, which set my feet tapping; I even caught myself humming along.

Which reminds me to point out that Night Music all play period instruments, with the exception of flautist Steven Zohn, who plays a modern copy of an eight-keyed flute from c.1790. I haven’t come across this Philadelphia-based ensemble before – I believe this is their first outing on record – but I certainly would like to hear more of them. Perhaps in the Mozart Eine kleine Nachtmusik which, presumably, was the origin of their name, overworked as that music is.

Between the Kraus and the Haydn comes the Dittersdorf Duo for the unusual combination of viola and violone, the latter the largest and one of the last surviving members of the viol family which were superseded by the violin and its relatives, in this case by the double bass. Once again, it reminds us of the quality of the music of a neglected composer, Carl Ditters, whose music made such an impression that he was ennobled as von Dittersdorf. Neglected, that is, until Naxos took up the cause some time ago; I commend their series of recordings to your attention, not least the two CDs devoted to his music based on tales from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (8.553368/9).

I can’t claim great music status for the Dittersdorf Duo, but it, too, receives a performance which brings out its attractions, and the recording captures the unusual sound of the combination very effectively.

One of those recordings, then, which, while hardly an essential purchase, adds to the sum of our enjoyment of the music of this period in Vienna around the turn of the eighteenth century. There’s even a little story in the booklet which pieces it all together. Selling at full price, the Avie is only slightly more expensive than the Brilliant and contains almost as much playing time – the second CD of that set is very short. Ideally, you should consider buying both; if it must be only one, then the Avie.

Just to complicate matters: for another recording of attractive, if inconsequential, flute music from the eighteenth century, try the recent Somm Hoffmeister’s Magic Flute review.

Anyone with an interest in the early history of the flute should also check out a new recording from Channel Classics Florilegium: The Spohr Collection (CCS43020). The instruments come from a splendid collection of wooden and ivory baroque flutes, some with silver keys, illustrated with fine performances of appropriate music – review by Johan van Veen.

Brian Wilson

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