CANNABICH Sinfonias: in D; in G. Concerto in C for Flute, Oboe, and Bassoon. Sinfonia concertante in E?1 • Ji?i Malát, cond; Joachim Schmitz (fl); Rainer Schick (ob); Jörg-Michael Thomé (bn); Sebastian Schmidt (vn);1 Nanette Schmidt (vn);1 Kurpfälzisches CO • ARTE NOVA 613370 (53: 11)
Contrary to the common belief promulgated by many general music-appreciation texts, the Mannheim School was not founded as a fixed academy or establishment of mid-18th-centuryRead more composers. Rather, it began as an orchestra, one of the finest of its time, attached to the court of Elector Carl Philipp, who moved his entire retinue en masse from Heidelberg to Mannheim in 1720. Over the next several years, the orchestra attracted a number of leading virtuosos who introduced various technical innovations, such as the full orchestral crescendo, uniform bowing, the grand pause, imitations of chirping birds, accorded greater prominence and independence to the winds, and other devices that still bear the name—“Mannheim rocket” and “Mannheim roller,” for two.
Those whose names are associated with the Mannheim School were hired as either players or leaders of the band, not as resident composers; however, they seized the opportunity to write for this exceptionally polished and progressive ensemble, experimenting with the techniques that would lay the foundations for the Classical symphony. Prominent among them were Johann Stamitz (1717–1757), Carl Stamitz (1745–1801), Franz Xaver Richter (1709–1789), Franz Ignaz Beck (1750–1790), and the current man on deck, Christian Cannabich (1731–1798).
Cannabich was born in Mannheim and joined the orchestra as a violinist at the age of 12, playing with the ensemble for three years, after which he decided to pursue his studies in Rome with Jommelli. Cannabich’s subsequent marriage and an invitation from Duke Christian IV brought the couple to Paris, where the composer spent the next 10 years writing and publishing a number of works. He did not return to Mannheim until 1774, when he succeeded Johann Stamitz as the orchestra’s director. He remained in this post until his death in 1798, having composed nearly 70 symphonies and having befriended and earned the praise of Mozart.
Of the two symphonies on this disc, both called “sinfonias,” the D-Major falls most precisely into the category, consisting as it does of three movements (fast/slow/fast). The first is typical of the period and style: fanfare-like triadic brass proclamations alternating with busy passages in the strings that rush up and down the scale stepwise or in alternating thirds. The second movement makes a stab at emfindsamer Stil, but comes off sounding more like a distracted divertissement. The third movement brings us more brass fanfares, horn calls, and measured string tremolandos.
With the G-Major Sinfonia, Cannabich makes the leap to a four-movement work, with a Menuetto following the Andante. Sounding much more assured and not as dependent on Mannheim clichés, the piece fits more comfortably the definition of an actual symphony, albeit an early one. No dates are given for these works, but I suspect that by the time Cannabich wrote this he had already heard some of Mozart’s early symphonies. There is in the first movement a clear proto-sonata/allegro form with a short but effective development section in the minor. The Andante now sings with a more lyrical voice, and the concluding Allegro assai has about it Mozart’s scintillating élan.
Unfortunately, the skimpy booklet note devotes its entire two pages to telling us about the Mannheim School and its stylistic advances. Not a word is included to impart any information about the specific works contained on the disc. Therefore, it is difficult to know what to make of the C-Major Concerto for flute, oboe, bassoon, and orchestra. The piece, as given here, consists of a nearly nine-minute single Allegro movement, the first few opening bars of which reminded me of the beginning of Haydn’s “Philosopher” Symphony (No. 22). The three solo wind instruments are written for in a concertante manner that is more akin to a sinfonia concertante than to a “triple” concerto that features three prominent protagonists. The effect is almost that of a concerto grosso in which the concertino soli are contrasted against the ripieno or tutti of the full orchestra. Also, I don’t understand the one movement. Was this an unfinished work or one in which the remaining movements have been lost? A single-movement concerto is surely an oddity.
The concluding work on the disc, the Sinfonia concertante in E? for two violins and orchestra is also a bit of an oddity, being in only two movements, both of them allegros, as if the expected middle slow movement was lost. Both technically and stylistically, however, the piece is far more advanced than the C-Major Flute, Oboe, and Bassoon single-movement concerto. It is hard to know which composer heard the other’s first, but listening to Cannabich’s Sinfonia concertante, one is struck by its similarities to Mozart’s great Sinfonia concertante in E? for violin and viola, K 364. In not a few respects, including the opening rhythmic pattern of the repeated E? unison chords and the passagework exchanged by the two solo instruments, the two pieces have much in common. Of course, Mozart’s is a work of genius, Cannabich’s of mere talent. And what is missing from the Cannabich is that gloriously dark, brooding, and passionate middle movement.
None of the music on this CD is likely to be a life-altering experience. It’s all very enjoyable and occasionally pretty and charming; but mostly it’s more entertaining than it is moving. Performances are professional and polished, but on modern instruments that do not strike me as particularly cognizant of period practices. Be that as it may, this 1998 budget recording is recommended as a nice fill-in for what I suspect is a fairly sparsely populated historical period in many collections.
Stellar MusicAugust 19, 2013By Anthony G. (valley stream, NY)See All My Reviews"This is galacticaly magnificent music sadly overlooked. Why? When was the last time it was performed in a major concert hall or on radio. I was so taken by this composer that I am buying all of his cds that are available. That says something. I have 3000 cds!"Report Abuse