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Dip Your Ears, No. 76 (Stamitz and Vaňhal on Naxos)

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C. Stamitz,
Orchestral Quartets,
NZSO ChO, Armstrong
(November 21st, 2006)

Naxos-delicacies are often found by the wayside in ‘undiscovered composer territory’. And even if Carl Stamitz (1745-1801) and Johann Baptist Vaňhal (1739 - 1813) are not completely unknown, you could probably not get two sides for a football-team in your town with classical music lovers that have heard either Stamitz’ Orchestral Quartets or Vaňhal’s Violin Concertos. Two Naxos discs might be about to change that.

A gem of a disc comes in the form of Carl Stamitz’ Orchestral Quartets, performed with passion, vigor, and tenderness by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra Chamber Orchestra (NZSO Chamber Orchestra) under the baton of Donald Armstrong. “Orchestral Quartets” in this case are quartets in the sense that they have four parts of music and could be played as a regular string quartet. In fact, two of the six op.14 works from which the four quartets on this disc stem, are pure string quartets (Nos.3 and 6, not included); two could be played by four players but are definitely meant for string orchestra (Nos.1 and 4, the most substantial of the bunch); Nos.2 and 5 could be either, are actually titled “Concertante Quartets” and make the upper voice optional for clarinet, flute, oboe, or violin, but are played here in the same manner as the “Orchestral Quartets”. The result is much more than one might expect from a ‘curious chamber work’ in a ‘curious orchestration’. This is not Kleinmeister-genius twice removed but, at least, Kleinmeister-genius at the root of origination... meant to be played like this and sounding truly delightful. A lightness of Mozart and Haydn, if without the same grace or humor, respectively, can be found – especially in the Fourth and First quartets, the Andantes of which are unadulterated sweetness (yet not cloying). Music, coincidentally, that seems like it is made to accompany a classical Valentine’s Day.

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J.B. Vaňhal,
Violin Concertos Vol.1,
Nishizaki, Cologne ChO, Müller-Brühl
(October 31st, 2006)

Johann Baptist Vaňhal, also (un-)known as Jan Křtitel Vaňhal, has written (at least) 15 Violin Concertos – of which three are presented on this disc: Two in G major and one in B-flat major. 12 more might follow – as this Helmut Müller-Brühl / Cologne Chamber Orchestra collaboration with soloist Takako Nishizaki is titled “Volume 1”. This surely isn’t going to be considered “deep” music, but it is elegant music. Apart from three uncontrollable Mozartean genius-outbreaks, there aren’t that many classical violin concertos that promise or offer anything near the involving, sumptuous, and grandiloquent romantic violin concertos. These works then should not so much be compared to works of the (nominally) same genre from the hands of Bruch, Brahms, Mendelssohn et al., but rather with that of the Sinfonia Concertante (or something along those lines) of the time. Impressive fiddling from Mr. Nishizaki is present throughout these works, but it isn’t the glamorous virtuoso work that distinguishes the romantic violin concerto. (Still, Mr. Mrs. Nishizaki made an excellent choice in recording these works with which he can distinguish himself in new, uncovered territory, rather than straining to get a vanity recording of Tchaikovsky or Sibelius on the market, which would never spread his name any further than to those who already know him.)

Deliberate and unstoppable, pleasant (pleasant enough to have been picked by Mozart to play, as is the case with the B-flat concerto) and sometimes a little more than that, played with consummate skill (if not exactly burning fire) by the Cologne Chamber Orchestra, they are excellent light fare to intersperse into the Haydn/Mozart diet of the ‘classically inclined’.


Anonymous said...

Mr Nishizaki is actually a Mrs and married to Klaus Heymann, founder of Naxos.

jfl said...

Thanks for correcting that oversight on my part. (Also explains why she was - presumably - easily convinced to take on these parts.)

{Reminds a little of Klara Würtz and Brilliant Classics - and certainly in that case no one can argue 'nepotism', given the quality of her playing.)


Anonymous said...

I cannot imagine it being worse than Count Shura Gerhman's (he founded/owned) Nimbus Records Winterreise with Nina Walker - on Numbus naturally.

jfl said...

I meant to suggest that a lot, possibly not everything, of Klara Würtz' on Brilliant deserves being there on quality of playing. Her Mozart sonatas, for one, are second to none - right up there with the other great recordings of Uchida, Schiff, Larrocha...