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Von Gemmingen: Violin Concertos 1 & 2, Sperger: Symphony In F Major "Arrival" / Lessing, Schirmer, Munich Radio Orchestra

Gemmingen / Muenchner Rundfunkorchester / Schirmer
Release Date: 04/24/2012 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777454   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ernst von GemmingenJohann Mathias Sperger
Performer:  Kolja Lessing
Conductor:  Ulf Schirmer
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Munich Radio Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

GEMMINGEN Violin Concertos: No. 1 in A; No. 2 in C. SPERGER Sinfonia in F, “Arrival Symphony” Ulf Schirmer, cond; Kolja Lessing (vn); MUnich RO CPO 777454 (63:08)

From the label that seems to specialize in unearthing the obscure, this time in coproduction with BR Klassik, CPO brings us two violin concertos by Ernst von Gemmingen (1759–1813). Descended from a clan of knights from Northern Württemberg, Gemmingen Read more was born in the Lower Saxony town of Celle. He grew up mainly, however, in Heilbronn, where his mother relocated the family after Ernst’s father died. While he was alive, Ludwig, the father, seems to have been a person of note who served as Royal Appellate Court Councilor of Great Britain and the Electorate of Hanover, as well as Minister Extraordinary to King George II.

Not a great deal is known about Gemmingen’s life or musical activities, but from the foregoing we know at least that he came from a distinguished and probably wealthy background. In 1781, he set out to tour France, England, Scotland, and the Netherlands, and he didn’t travel penniless with nothing but a knapsack on his back. While he spent some time in service to the Margrave Karl Alexander of Brandenburg in Bayreuth as Court Chamber Councilor and Director of Court Music, most of the rest of his career seems to have been devoted to his knightly duties in ambassadorial service. As Lord of the Hornberg castle and Lord in Neckarzimmern, Gemmingen was elected a Knight of the Canton Kraichgau in 1795 and remained so until the dissolution of the canton. Because of his royal station, some Gemmingen references, such as they are, give his name as Gemmingen-Hornberg.

Sometime around 1800, fairly late in his life and seemingly out of the blue, Gemmingen composed four violin concertos, the first two of which are heard here. I say “out of the blue” because there’s little evidence that he wrote anything else either before or after, or that he ever studied music composition formally, and there’s no record that he was a violinist of note or even that he played the violin. And yet, here they are, two of Gemmingen’s documented four concertos, and gloriously beautiful they are, too. The style is unequivocally Italianate. Kolja Lessing’s program note describes them as “opera scenarios of instrumental scope” and suggests that Gemmingen’s melodic contours anticipate the bel canto grace and charm of Rossini.

In the realm of violin concerto, the closest comparison to Gemmingen’s two examples would be the concertos of his close Italian contemporary G. B. Viotti, though Gemmingen doesn’t make quite as many virtuosic demands on the player as Viotti does. With a good teacher and some serious practice, Gemmingen’s concertos could make excellent recital repertoire for the reasonably advanced violin student, and what an opportunity for mastering the art of smooth bowing and the long singing line. The slow movements, in particular, if supplied with words, could easily serve as cavatina-type arias in an early 19th-century opera.

It wasn’t until 1994 that these violin concertos were discovered in the archives of Hornberg Castle amid a very large collection of scores Gemmingen had amassed in his private library. Among the volumes were almost all the string quartets of Haydn and Boccherini. These are truly beautiful concertos in a post-Mozart, early Romantic style, suffused with nonstop melodic invention and smart orchestral writing. Lessing plays them with all the loving care and tenderness they deserve, and his own cadenzas, short and to the point, are integrated into the scores as if to both the musical manner and the Hornberg manor born.

Johann Matthias Sperger (1750–1812) is at least a blip on the radar screen, which is more than can heretofore have been said of his almost exact contemporary Gemmingen. The Czech-born Sperger made a name for himself throughout Austria as a virtuoso string bass player and a composer of works not only for his own instrument but for orchestra as well; he wrote more than 40 symphonies and quite a few concertos for various instruments.

It’s a little disappointing that this two-movement oddity by Sperger, designated “Arrival Symphony,” was selected to fill out the disc instead of another of Gemmingen’s concertos. Having heard Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony, Sperger thought it a clever idea to reverse the process by having the musicians arrive on stage one by one. The result is a first-movement Andante that for almost six minutes is dominated by an obbligato solo violin. By the time the oboe saunters in at 5:53, more than half of the movement’s nine and a half-minutes are over. Only in the last minute does the full complement of strings join in. The idea may have seemed witty at the time, but the music itself is pretty witless, and the three-and-a-half-minute Allegro movement that follows the Andante is too little too late to save Sperger’s musical prank from being pronounced the composer’s symphony “Dead on Arrival.”

Ulf Schirmer leads the Münich Radio Orchestra in solid and sympathetic playing, but Kolja Lessing is the one who deserves the lion’s share of the credit for bringing these wonderful Gemmingen concertos to light and for performing them so beautifully. Dare we hope for a follow-up release containing the two remaining concertos? Very strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin no 1 by Ernst von Gemmingen
Performer:  Kolja Lessing (Violin)
Conductor:  Ulf Schirmer
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Munich Radio Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: Germany 
Concerto for Violin no 2 by Ernst von Gemmingen
Performer:  Kolja Lessing (Violin)
Conductor:  Ulf Schirmer
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Munich Radio Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: Germany 
Symphony in F major "Arrival" by Johann Mathias Sperger
Conductor:  Ulf Schirmer
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Munich Radio Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: Germany 

Sound Samples

Violin Concerto No. 1 in A major: I. Allegro (Cadenza by Lessing)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A major: II. Adagio
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A major: III. Rondo
Violin Concerto No. 2 in C major: I. Allegro moderato (Cadenza by Lessing)
Violin Concerto No. 2 in C major: II. Andantino cantabile
Violin Concerto No. 2 in C major: III. Rondo
Symphony in F major, "Ankunftssinfonie" (Arrival Symphony): I. Andante
Symphony in F major, "Ankunftssinfonie" (Arrival Symphony): II. Allegro molto

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