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Johannes Matthias SPERGER (1750-1812)
Double Bass Concerto No 1 in D major [19:18]
Sinfonia No 15 in A major (1782) [17:37]
Double Bass Concerto No 8 in D major [23:18]
Roman Patkolˇ (double bass)
SŘdwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim/Douglas Bostock
rec. 14-16 July 2020, CCP Pforzheim, Mittlere Saal.
CPO 555 404-2 [60:18]

Johannes Matthias Sperger was one of the most important double bassists of the 18th century, but he was until quite recently almost entirely forgotten. Today there is a ‘Sperger Competition’ for double bass, and his name is recognised in a variety of ways in Ludwigslust, the place where he lived and worked for the renowned court orchestra of Duke Friedrich Franz I.

Sperger wrote 18 double bass concertos, and these are known for their remarkable virtuosity. The First Double Bass Concerto has an infectiously jovial first movement, the themes of which are entered into and varied upon with gusto by the soloist. The impressive solo parts throughout these recordings stand as a testimony to Sperger’s virtuosity, and it is as much a tribute to the old master that Roman Patkolˇ’s stunning cadenza doesn’t stand out as an odd shift in style or performance technique. The fundamental musical style is elegantly classical, but the double bass comes to the fore like the lead guitar in a pop band. There is a lyrical central movement in which Roman Patkolˇ airs his cello-like vibrato on significant notes and offers up another fascinating cadenza, and the finale is an Allegro over which the soloist again demonstrates fleetness of fingering and lightness of touch, especially with rapid repeated notes.

The Sinfonia No 15 is one of a total of 45 symphonies from this composer, and is played here for the first time after 239 years of its score lying on a dusty library shelf. The main reference in terms of style here is Haydn, with some Sturm und Drang stresses in the energetic first movement, contrasting sharply with pastoral tranquility in the Andante second movement. Rustic character continues into a sprightly Menuetto third movement which you might easily mistake for Haydn, and the finale is a cheerful but virtuosic triple-time/one beat to a bar romp to carry us home on the lightest of feet.

The Double Bass Concerto No 8 is another fine discovery, having also lain unseen in a library for 234 years and considered by Klaus Trumpf in his booklet notes as “perhaps the most interesting double bass concerto ever written until this time” for its wealth of melodic invention, “imaginative harmonies and extraordinarily interesting orchestra part.” The soloist has flageolet effects, rich double stopping and extremely wide range in general. All of this is done with translucent sonorities in the first movement, making it sound deceptively ‘easy’ on the ear. Horns and oboes are silent in the central Adagio cantabile movement, a contrast in sonority which allows for soft expressiveness from the double bass. The finale is great fun, with driving pizzicati in the strings and, while always in the service of musicality, Olympic feats of range and intensity from the soloist. As the booklet puts it, “the entire last movement enraptures the listener with its unbridled virtuosity.”
The word virtuosity becomes overused in this kind of review, but Sperger’s remarkable writing for the soloist is always in the service of imaginative musical ideas. A further CPO record with double bass concertos 2 and 15 and the Sinfonia No 30 has been reviewed here, and I for one hope there will be more of Johann Matthias Sperger from this source. If you have had enough of Giovanni Bottesini then this is a great place for more double bass material. The orchestra is very good, and Roman Patkolˇ is brilliant in every regard.

Dominy Clements

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