Stamitz: Four Symphonies (CD review)

Werner Ehrhardt, L'arte del mondo. CPO 777 526-2.

You probably recognize the name of German composer Carl Stamitz (1745-1801). He was the son of another musician famous in his time, the Czech composer Johann Stamitz (1717-1757). Both men were virtuoso violinists, and together they wrote about 800 symphonies, concertos, and chamber works in the popular Mannheim style the father founded. But can you actually name anything the young Stamitz wrote? Can you hum a piece of his music? I thought not. Carl Stamitz died in relative obscurity, and currently one can find only a handful of albums dedicated to his works alone. Such is the fleeting nature of fame.

This 2010 CPO release presents four of Carl Stamitz's symphonies, with Werner Ehrhardt leading the chamber orchestra L'arte del mondo, an ensemble Ehrhardt formed in 2004 to pursue early music on modern instruments. Stamitiz's symphonies, representative of the early classical period, feature mostly three-movement structures, usually omitting the minuets common to earlier arrangements. Because the symphonies are quite melodious, refined, and easy on the ear, one can understand why they became so popular, yet after listening to them, one can also understand why people so quickly forgot them.

The album starts off with the Symphony in D minor, Op. 15,3 (Kai 24). The salient point here is in the lively contrasts between each successive movement, from barely audible sections to momentous crescendoes. The piece is also quite concise, a little more than eleven minutes in length. Then we get the Symphony in E flat major (Kai 38), marked by a robust and invigorating opening Allegro con spirito, a sweetly flowing Andante, and an energetic conclusion.

Next is the Symphony in E minor, Op. 15,2 (Kai 23), the only symphony on the disc in four movements. It begins with a gentle, lyrical introduction that gradually moves into a more-animated passage. The succeeding Andante is far from slow but it is warm and friendly, suggesting a manner reminiscent of Haydn. After that, we get a Minuetto that is for all practical purposes a scherzo, changing the pace considerably. The work ends with a brisk Allegro assai that wraps up the symphony in a highly dramatic manner.

The album finishes with the Symphony in F major (Kai 34), subtitled "La Chasse" because of its hunting motif. We even hear hunting horns in the opening and closing movements. In between, there is much activity, motion, and invention, ending the program in a most imaginative way. Still, while Stamitz's music is pleasurable in the moment, it is largely unremarkable and hardly memorable.

Ehrhardt and his players obviously relish the variety in this music and perform it with precision, polish, and class. However, they are not without a sense of fun and joy in their performances, too, particularly evident in "The Chase."

The miking is fairly close and probably captures an accurate representation of the orchestra's sound.  Although the recording seems a tad forward, it projects a clear, clean sonic picture, with plenty of detail on almost every front. It also displays a wide dynamic range that may have the listener reaching for the volume control on more than a few occasions. Perhaps the audio engineers could have found a bit more weight at the lower and mid bass end; otherwise, things sound splendid, with a nice sense of air and ambience around the instruments.

JJP

2 comments:

  1. I think you will find that L'arte del Mondo perform mostly on period instruments and only use modern ones for 20th century music.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you, Anon. I'm not really familiar with the orchestra, so I got the information about them from the booklet note.

    ReplyDelete

John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

I've been listening to classical music most of my life, starting with the classical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first classical recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor. Today, I'm retired from teaching and using a pair of VMPS RM40s. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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