Just last issue I reviewed the first disc of Johan Helmich Roman’s Read more style="font-style:italic">Drottningholmsmusiken to appear in more than a decade. That production on BIS with Andrew Manze and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra is, as I said, quite decent, although my own personal preference was for the livelier, if sometimes musically flawed, earlier renditions by Nils Erik Sparf and Claude Génetay. That was not to say that Manze’s version performed on modern instruments is deficient, and certainly it is the one to get if you want a good, solid performance of this seminal work written in 1744 for the wedding of Swedish crown prince Adolph Fredrik and Prussian princess Louisa (sorry, in Swedish, Lovisa) Ulrika by an aging court Kapellmeister coping with personal and health issues. Now, within the space of a month or so a second recording has appeared, this one by a new group, the Ensemble 1700 Lund, formed by Per Bengtsson and Lars Henriksson back in 2005.
It is about time that Skåne had its own period-instrument group, particularly since Lund University had in its library one of the largest collections of 18th-century music found anywhere. This was gathered by two music directors, Friedrich Kraus (no relation to his contemporaneous colleague and Swedish court Kapellmeister Joseph Martin Kraus) and Wenster between 1750 and 1800 and contains unique scores and parts of works found nowhere else. There are, for example, the sole surviving sources of symphonies by Italians Antonio Brioschi, Fortunato Chelleri, and Giuseppe Arena. Since its founding, the Ensemble 1700 Lund has quietly been building its reputation on its home turf, and with this recording is, as far as I know, making its international debut. That it has chosen one of Sweden’s best-known and most important works for this is significant. It implies that the group is to be a presence from this point forward. The excellent program notes by Swedish scholar Jan Ling also take a different tack, given that audiences surely do not need yet another extensive discussion of the work itself. Following a brief (and well-written) history, Ling poses a series of three questions to the musicians themselves, trying to see how they react to this suite of 25 movements. The answers are illuminating and make fascinating reading (although I won’t spoil things by giving away what they say).
As for the performance itself, conductor Göran Karlsson has certainly imbued the spirit of the work into his ensemble. His tempos are quite variable and his interpretations bring the music alive. There is the spark and energy, even in the slow movements, that I personally was missing in Manze’s rendition. The nuances of phrasing bring out some hidden delights, such as the gentle oboe pastoral minuet (No. 2) or the soft flute line (No. 14) that flows evenly and rhythmically. The raucous parts with the horns and trumpets are rousing, if sometimes a bit overblown, but even the edgy power gives the impression of a true outdoors piece. One will be hard-pressed not to think of this as a sort of prequel to Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music composed some five years later, even though there are moments of galant musical modernity. This mixed style is delineated nicely in this recording. Thus I must abandon my preference for the older recordings in favor of this one. It is truly an embarrassment of riches to have two fine new recordings of this piece; one only needs to choose one on the basis of one’s own preferences and not on lack of quality. Now, the Ensemble 1700 Lund needs to be encouraged to explore and record some of the treasures that await resurrection in its own back yard. We shall be the richer for it.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
Johan Helmich Roman is the first Swedish-born composer in history. When he was appointed as violinist in the court orchestra in Stockholm he was just seven years old. From 1715 to 1721 he stayed in London, where he came under the influence of Handel. He also met some of the leading Italian composers including Giovanni Bononcini, Francesco Geminiani and Francesco Maria Veracini. After his return he was appointed deputy master of the chapel and in 1727 leader of the court orchestra.
He played a crucial role in Swedish music history in that he improved the standard of the court orchestra and initiated public concerts in 1731. The 1740s brought considerable changes. He had health problems, his second wife died and his patroness, Queen Ulrike Eleonora, also passed away. In 1743 Adolf Fredrik inherited the throne, and in 1744 he married Lovisa Ulrika, who was a sister of the Prussian King, Frederick the Great. She was highly educated, but also a rather unpleasant character. Apparently she didn't appreciate Roman's music very much as in a letter to her brother she referred to him as "a deaf chapel master".
Indeed, Roman struggled with deafness, and in 1745 retired from his position. The Drottningholmsmusiken is probably the last major work he wrote. It was composed for the wedding of Adolf Fredrik and Lovisa Ulrika. It consists of 25 movements which were certainly not played in a sequence. It is not known what Lovisa Ulrika thought of this music, but it was probably too conservative for her taste.
The scoring of the various movements - not given in the track-list - is different. The strings are the core of the ensemble, and they are joined by wind instruments: a recorder, a transverse flute, two oboes or oboi d'amore, two trumpets, two horns and a bassoon. The opening allegro - in fact a menuet - is a typical piece for a royal wedding, with trumpets, strings and basso continuo. In the next movement a pair of oboes play
colla parte with the strings. This is a feature of most movements: the wind having no independent parts. There are some exceptions: in track 20 - an allegro in form of a menuet - the two horns play solo in the trio section. In the next track, another allegro, the two trumpets and the two horns are involved in a dialogue. That happens again in one episode of track 22: it opens with oboes and strings, then follows an episode with a dialogue of trumpets and horns, first without accompaniment, then supported by the strings. The last six movements have the largest scoring, with oboes, trumpets and horns in various combinations.
Track 24 has the tempo indication of allegro, but is in fact a sequence of fast and slow episodes. As one would expect with wedding music, there are few really slow movements. There are just three: two lentos (tracks 8 and 17) and a grave (track 15). In particular the lento of track 8 is a remarkably expressive piece. Tracks 13 and 14 contain a
tempo di minuetto with a trio section. In the menuet the strings are joined by the oboi d'amore, which lend a beautiful dark colour to the ensemble, and in the trio the transverse flute plays the key role. Lastly, several movements are played with solo strings, like track 3 (two violins and viola) and track 18 (violin and viola).
Drottningholmsmusiken is played with a relatively small ensemble. Only recently Glyn Pursglove reviewed a recording by the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra. Here we hear just seven violins, two violas, two cellos and double-bass, plus wind and basso continuo. There is a reason for this relatively small scoring, as the oboist Per Bengtsson - one of the founders of the Ensemble 1700 Lund - explains in the booklet. He went to Drottningholm Castle to experience the place at which music was originally performed. It was played in the foyer; the musicians were standing behind the statues, and some were hidden high up on the stairs. "It became clear to one that there could not have been too many musicians (the places behind the statues are limited), percussion would have been too loud in the stone foyer. It is doubtful whether a harpsichord would have been used. For this reason, our lutenist took over the sole continuo role in some movements, and these considerations influenced the size of our orchestra".
That makes a lot of sense. It would have been preferable if the lutenist had played the continuo part in even more movements than he does here. But that is only a minor point of criticism to a highly enjoyable and entertaining recording. This music was not written to be consumed at a single stretch, but that’s how I have tackled this disc. In fact there wasn’t a dull moment. That is very much down to Roman's music which is really good to hear and offers plenty of variety, also because of the various scorings. I also enjoyed the playing of this group which I hadn't heard before, and which I rate highly. They are technically immaculate and the players of the natural trumpets and horns are particularly impressive. The vividness and the rhythmic suppleness and flexibility are admirable. This recording could be pretty close to the way the Drottningholmsmusiken were played under the direction of the composer himself.
-- Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International Read less
Works on This Recording
Drottningholm Musicby Johan Helmich Roman
Ensemble 1700 Lund
Period: Baroque Written: 1744; Sweden Venue: Kirche Eslöv, Sweden Length: 56 Minutes 11 Secs.
Bilagers musiquen (Royal wedding music), "Drottningholmsmusique": Vivace da capo
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
A Swedish Water Music, played with loving careJune 10, 2012By K. Wasell (Lynnwood, WA)See All My Reviews"Apart from Handel's Water Music I am not aware of any other large collections of occasional pieces assembled outside the confines of the formal orchestral suite. Surely Roman must have taken the Water Music as his example. If other examples of the form existed they sadly haven't survived -- do let me know if I'm missing something.
At their best, many of the pieces sound like refugees from Handel's workshop, particularly #20, a minuet-like "Allegro", with the full ensemble alternating with solo horns, and #s 21 and 22, in which the trumpets and horns trade the themes back and forth in as near an imitation of the Fireworks as one can imagine. But certain movements, particularly the beautiful, pastorale-like #17, show the composer to be well-versed in the French style as well. To my ear, Roman makes more use of motoric rhythms than Handel. The familiar opening movement is an example. Is this nascent classicism? The impression is strengthened by titling the movements by tempo indication rather than dance style. I'd love to know how many of the movements were originally intended to be passapieds or rigaudons, or whether Roman was freely composing.
Despite the similarities, Roman isn't Handel. His melodies lack the fluent inevitability of the master's, even upon repeated listening. Certain harmonic progressions and startling rhythmic shifts bring Rameau to mind, though without his urbanity and style. To my ears there's something rustic about this music. Had the composer remained in London, say, this would be third-rate stuff. Boyce and Arne find more eloquence in much the same vein. For all that, it's charming music, full of catchy tunes and, in this performance, moments of real sentimental intimacy.
The only other period-instrument performance I have is by the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble on Musica Sveciae, recorded in a more cavernous (if memory serves it is in the Drottningholm Opera House) sound but with timpani, which I sorely miss in this new recording as the more-festive pieces seem to cry out for them. According to the notes for this recording an inspection of the original venue found them unsuitable due to the echo from the stone floors. Nevertheless, I wish they would have found a way to hide them behind the draperies and maybe just tap a little -- the earlier Musica Sveciae recording was a model of good taste in this regard. I will value this new recording, however, for its better sound and shapelier solos from both the winds and the solo violin, the additional characterization betraying extra care and polish. This sounds like a smaller ensemble and, though I'm not sure to what extent instrumentation survives or was specified in the score, there is at least one more instance of instrumental parsimony: the flute doubling the violin solo in #18 is missing here.
There are a couple more suites titled "Lilla Drottningsholmsmusiken" composed for the same occasion but listening to my two recordings of those reveals them to be the the real bottom of the bag -- this is the good stuff here.